Gary Neville has spoken of his concerns over Louis van Gaal’s methods at Manchester United and says it is becoming hard to “ignore the flashing red lights”.
United have started the Premier League season with two wins, one draw and a defeat, with the surrender at Swansea before the international break highlighting concerns over United’s lack of imagination and rigidity in attack.
Ahead of a crunch clash with Liverpool on Saturday evening, Neville spoke of his concerns in his column in The Telegraph.
He said: “I’ve always maintained that Manchester United should give their managers a minimum of two to two-and-a-half years, however messy things get. My support for Louis van Gaal is unchanged but there are red flags on some of the things we’ve seen at the club.
“At the time he started to come under serious pressure I stuck by David Moyes, even though you could see all was not rosy. It’s quite clear that all is not rosy now, either, with the player tensions and the sometimes stagnant football, but I still believe United should stand by Van Gaal through this season and the start of next.
“He is at the point, though, where he has to start delivering the performances that go with the fantastic amount of money he has been given and the incredible support from the fans.”
The transition from the trophy-laden Sir Alex Ferguson era has not been a smooth one for the Red Devils. Moyes was sacked after less than a season in charge, and though Van Gaal retains the support of the majority of supporters, Neville feels Van Gaal is perhaps fortunate that his methods have not come under more intense scrutiny.
“I’m torn,” he said. “Part of me doesn’t like what I see but I also accept we’re still in a post-Sir Alex Ferguson scenario. It was a bit like this at United during my childhood. The lack of order, the carousel. Maybe what I remember from my boyhood years is actually the norm and what we had under Sir Alex was freakish. Perhaps we are judging Louis van Gaal, like David Moyes before him, according to the golden era that went before.
“Nevertheless Van Gaal is fortunate to be at a club with Manchester United’s traditions. If he were playing the football he’s playing and getting the results he’s getting, having spent the money he’s spent, at Bayern Munich or Barcelona, he would be in significant trouble. United take a longer-term view.
“But I still return to my belief that there has to be a better way. United are certainly starting to do things that we scoffed at in the Ferguson era when other clubs behaved that way. That’s where my conflict is. I have real concerns that Louis van Gaal has fallen out with numerous players over the last year. Some of those players he actually brought in himself. Angel di Maria and Victor Valdes would be examples.
“There seems to be an element of the iron fist with Van Gaal. For 25 years people talked of Sir Alex’s ‘hairdryer’ but Sir Alex had compassion, while Van Gaal tends to be colder in his dealings with players. It hardly bodes well when players are brought through the door by a manager who then discards or marginalises them.
“Di Maria, Valdes, Falcao, Rojo, Van Persie – and there are others. That’s too many players to get on the wrong side of. These are not bad lads. So I’m slightly concerned that there is this iron fist being applied to players who I look at from personal experience and think: they’re quite good people. I know some of those lads, and they are what I would classify as really good professionals.”
United have also been widely criticised for how they handled their transfer policy through the summer. Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian were all recruited before the club’s pre-season tour of the United States, but the later stages of the transfer window saw only young Frenchman Anthony Martial arrive for a huge fee.
Following a number of high-profile departures, including Robin van Persie, Angel Di Maria, Javier Hernandez, Rafael and Falcao, United are undoubtedly still short in some areas, and Neville is worried by the turnover.
The former England defender said: “The transfer activity concerns me most. That carousel approach. If you had said to me at the end of last season Manchester United would have a net spend of £30-40million – that they would sign Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Depay, Darmian and Martial – I would have been pleased to see signings who were either young and full of potential or highly experienced, in the case of Schweinsteiger, who brings control in central midfield and support for Michael Carrick.
“I would have called that a really good transfer window for Manchester United in terms of moving up from fourth to second or third in the Premier League.
“If you then said De Gea would be left out, Falcao and Van Persie would leave, Di Maria and Rafael would leave, I would have taken a breath and felt less sure. It is as if defeat has been grabbed from the jaws of victory. The nonsense around Neymar, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale and Thomas Muller has pushed people over the edge into thinking: there is a lack of decorum here. United have always been proud of their conduct in the transfer market but that polished feeling has gone.”
United face Liverpool on Saturday, with both managers under pressure. Neville wants Van Gaal to allow United the freedom to attack their fierce rivals at Old Trafford.
He said: “To call the fixture a crossroads moment for Van Gaal would be an exaggeration. At the same time I think these United players have to take to the Old Trafford pitch with a feeling of freedom. They must think: ‘We’re playing against Liverpool at home, we’re better than them at this point, let’s dominate this football match and play at the high tempo a Manchester United side can play at.’”