Is Man Utd Marmite manager Van Gaal damaging Red Devils?
When Manchester United (11/2 chances with Coral to win the Premier League) appointed Louis van Gaal, then Netherlands manager following the 2014 World Cup finals, it was always clear he came with baggage.
Even in Brazil, the Dutch tactician had upset the apple cart by replacing number one stopper Jasper Cillessen with back-up custodian Tim Krul for a spot-kick shoot-out, and it famously proved to be a stroke of genius.
So, the Red Devils, 20/1 for Champions League glory, were perfectly aware they had captured a controversial coaching character with a chequered record in man management.
Yet, at club level, cracks can appear quicker, and Van Gaal has already put the cat among pigeons several times, which is not surprising to any who have followed his career closely, and the manager now finds himself under the microscope.
Barcelona and Bulgaria legend Hristo Stoichkov is the latest former player to have spoken out against the Red Devils boss, stating: “I would never be under the orders of Van Gaal. He’s mediocre. He destroyed Barca and is destroying Man Utd.
“With what he has done to goalkeeper [Victor] Valdes he has shown he is a bad person. Hopefully Pedro listens to me and doesn’t leave,” added the Bulgarian.
At Barca, Stoichkov, eventually sold under Van Gaal, was not the only star to have fallen foul of the Dutchman, who favours disciplined players that strictly adhere to his philosophy. Brazil icon Rivaldo was infamously another casualty of the coach’s Nou Camp rule.
While, during his mixed stint at Bayern Munich, Van Gaal reportedly isolated himself from the entire Allianz Arena hierarchy, freezing out fan favourites Mark van Bommel and Luca Toni along the way.
In fact, his career is littered with long-running disputes, such as with peers Ronald Koeman and Johan Cruyff. However, things were supposed to be different at Old Trafford, where Van Gaal was to find the freedom to exercise his ideas.
The United board have certainly stuck by their man so far, rightly backing their boss when he benched record British signing Angel Di Maria, who failed to fit into the system, and was subsequently sold to PSG this summer.
Yet his sale came at a loss, both monetary and sporting, as Man Utd now lack a player with the sparkle and magic to unlock stubborn rearguards.
It appears outspoken Van Gaal rubs big egos the wrong way, which was supposed to help United clear their ranks following the issues with player power that appeared to arise during David Moyes’ ill-fated reign.
Instead, Van Gaal’s forthright nature seems to have contributed to the calamitous striker situation, with Robin van Persie given short shrift and allowed to leave for Turkey without a replacement at the ready.
The goalkeeper issue has also seen ex-Barca boy Victor Valdes left out in the cold after a disagreement made painfully public, while wantaway David de Gea has also been sidelined with unfancied Anders Lindegaard, leaving the club with five custodians.
It is to be noted that the fiery coach has not alienated all of his former charges, with Xavi Hernandez and Thomas Muller just two superstars to have praised the man who nurtured their talents.
Also in his favour, is the pulling power and personal relationships with summer signings Memphis Depay, Lucas Romero and Bastian Schweinsteiger that helped draw them to the Red Devils.
So, clearly, contentious figure Van Gaal is just one of football’s Marmite men. Sir Alex Ferguson was no different, as famous fall-outs with David Beckham and Jaap Stam can attest.
Yet, Ferguson had the results to back abrasive behaviour up, while Van Gaal’s decisions and results have been widely questioned, as the coach starts his second season in the Northwest potless despite spending vast sums of money.
This term will truly determine whether his scorched earth policy works, and eyebrows have been raised over Van Gaal’s preference for playing winger Memphis in a central role, while quirks such as favouring a left-footed centre back have seen Daley Blind shoehorned into the position.
These choices may yet see the Man Utd Marmite manager come undone, but margins for success are fine, and with a few swashbuckling wins under his belt, Van Gaal could soon become flavour of the month once again, while critics file away their concerns until the next divisive issue.