If you’re Manchester United and you appoint an ex-coach of the Netherlands, Ajax and Barcelona who signs Falcao and Ángel Di María, you expect better than a style Wing Commander Reep would consider a bit too simplistic. You expect Wayne Rooney to be playing in attack and Marouane Fellaini to be in midfield, not the other way around.
So now that the club’s third in the English Premier League, has only lost once in10ten games and it seems everyone’s expecting them to return to the Champions League, the debate can evolve from “why is United so useless” to “why is United so bad to watch?”
It’s something of a luxury narrative, given the club’s miserable 18 months since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. And because there’s nothing more beautiful than winning. Still, when no less a man than ex-United midfielder Paul Scholes sticks the boot in with as much vicious aggression as in one of hismis-timed tackles, it has to sting.
“I am struggling to watch Louis van Gaal’s team with any great enjoyment,” he wrote in The Independent. “At times, United’s football is miserable. To beat opposing teams you have to attack, and to attack you have to take risks. Too few of the players in the current team are prepared to take those risks.”
He goes on: “there is an obsession with possession. United fans don’t care if the team only has 40 per cent possession as long as they are watching an attacking team. My experience was that the supporters understood that even our best teams, even the teams with Peter Schmeichel or Edwin van der Sar in goal, were going to concede goals. We were not reckless, or naïve, but always the chief aim was to attack – and we backed ourselves to outscore the opposition.”
Scholes goes on to say that attacking soccer is a fundamental part of the club’s history and identity. So is winning matches and qualifying for European competition, though. And the contrast between “long ball” and “attacking soccer” seems dubious, given that a direct ball forward is the quickest possible method of launching an attack.
Hard to imagine a week ago that a partly self-deprecating comment from West Ham manager and long ball legend Sam Allardyce could lead to so much hand-wringing at Old Trafford, and Van Gaal producing a stat dossier at a pre-match press conference. Back in Ferguson’s day, it was United’s opponents who grew so riled by criticism that they produced their own “facts.”