Louis van Gaal must solve United’s identity crisis.
The football season is over. If you’re like me you zoned out weeks ago, only to return in disbelief as football player Ryan Giggs had a go at being football manager Ryan Giggs. The sight of homegrown heroes in the dugout was both surreal and exhilirating. A token act to reignite optimism after a wretched season? Possibly, but for me it represented more than that. It reaffirmed the real issue facing United; that of identity.
American owners. Registered in the Cayman Isles. Looking for a third manager within two years. Anticipating a Dutch influx on the coaching staff. Things aint what they used to be. The club has changed beyond all recognition in the last thirty years; in many ways for the better. Yet for all the joyous success there has long been a nagging sense of what the cost might be of winning. United the global brand is all well and good, but what makes us different from any other European super club?
Horrible football and embarrassing results have been the lasting impression of the Moyes era. The end of season DVD makers face an unenviable task. Thank goodness for Adnan. He has been the shining light and the powers that be would be wise to recognise why his emergence so thrilled the United support. Youth development has been at the heart of United’s identity since the days of Sir Matt. The pleasure of seeing a player from within make it in the first team is without parallel. Longsight’s finest notching in Madrid brought me more pleasure than any of Robin van Persie’s many briliiant goals. Why? Because he is ours. We were truly spoilt by the emergence of a uniquely talented group in the nineties; that was not and never could be the norm. However the presence of those legends in the dugout and the blooding of Wilson and Lawrence was a stark reminder of what defines Manchester United. United have always created more superstars than we have imported.
The benefits of bringing through our own are obvious and you’d be hard pressed to find United fans who would disagree with the above sentiments. Yet ever since Ferguson retired fans have talked excitedly of the need for mass investment. Figures of up to £200m have been widely circulated as fans debate their fantasy shopping lists. I’m not sure how healthy this is. The squad needs investment – and you’ll not find me complaining at the arrival of truly world class central midfielders – yet spending your way out of trouble seem very, well, City. The recruitment of players is no guarantee of success (see Fellaini, Marouane) and brings with it a potentially damaging impact on prospects lower down. Glamour signings like Cavani might delight the sponsors but signings expect to play. Every new purchase is an additional rung on the ladder to the first team for a younger player already at the club. James Wilson might not be ready to lead the line in 2014, but two years down the line we would hope him to be. If the strategy is to switch to marquee signings then the chances of players like Wilson having that opportunity will be reduced. The question to be considered above all others when seeking to improve the first team must always be ‘can we promote from within?’
All of which is further cause for optimism at the imminent appointment of van Gaal. A track record of ignoring reputations and promoting youth is as important a quality for me as a trophy packed CV. Research van Gaal and you don’t need to do much reading to gain a sense of de ja vu; the promotion and development of youth is central to what he does. If a younger player suits his system then to hell with the consequences of putting a superstar’s nose out of joint. I feel reassured that once the new manager familiarises himself with the whole club he will ease the passage of talent to the first team. It might seem fanciful to expect a Xavi or Muller to be plucked from our youth team but the stunning rise of Januzaj shows that there is rewards to reap by trusting in the untried.
In the meantime the concern is that Woodward running around with a chequebook will have an entirely different philosophy based on fuelling his own ego with expensive star names. I dearly hope that the incoming manager is already driving the process but given the way the club has conducted business over the last eighteen months forgive me if I’m more than a little pessimistic. All that will change though once the appointment is made. It is testament to the chaotic period we have been through that my hope for rediscovering our identity is placed in an outsider. The consensus is of the need for major changes this summer but if United are to regain our identity it is essential that this remains the exception rather than the rule.