Paul Parker won two Premier League titles and an FA Cup during his time with Manchester United. In the first of his weekly columns for FourFourTwo, he gives us his thoughts on Louis van Gaal’s ego, Angel Di Maria’s departure and the David De Gea debacle…
Louis van Gaal was a great appointment at Manchester United last year, but the season prior to that I felt very sad about what happened with David Moyes. He was handed a very, very overused squad by Sir Alex Ferguson and never had a fair rub of the green.
Sir Alex had manipulated that squad to overachieve. They won the Premier League in 2012-13, but it was really Sir Alex keeping them going. Then when David Moyes came in with the same bunch of players, they couldn’t repeat that feat. Sir Alex would definitely have got them above seventh, where David Moyes took them, but no one else could’ve done that job with that group of players.
When you look at who was available after they parted company with Moyes and you look at his CV, Van Gaal was a good appointment. He was somebody at the top of the tree who really should be at the forefront of a club like Manchester United.
In his first season you have to say he achieved what Manchester United as a club and as a business needed. He gave them back Champions League football. Other clubs are happy to be in the Champions League, but Manchester United need to be in it, as a business.
That was first and foremost when he took over and he managed to get that done. It would’ve been something he wanted to do too because, as we know, Van Gaal has definitely got an ego. His ego is to manage against the best teams and to pit his players against the best in Europe.
It was also going to take a huge amount of money to rejuvenate that list, so you can understand their spending spree. They definitely needed it. They needed to rebuild the squad, but today’s football doesn’t allow you to rebuild a team. Teams like Manchester United shouldn’t really be spending money like that, they should just be tweaking what they have by one or two players.
But if you really want to get there quick, it’s the only way these days. You haven’t got enough time to wait for players to mature for clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United. You have to get there as soon as possible. Liverpool have been chasing it now since 1990. They haven’t won a league title since then. They’ve won a Champions League and UEFA Cups, but they should be winning league titles.
Van Gaal’s next job now in my opinion is to compete in both competitions. Manchester United are going to want to get to the knockout stage of the Champions League and he’s going to want to be competing all the way to the back end of the season to try to win the Premier League.
I expect them to be pushing up higher than last year’s fourth place, without a doubt. For the outlay of money, there has to be another level they go to. He’ll set himself levels as a manager and adjust and have a goal and the players will too. I think the players’ goal will be to win the league. I think that’s a big ask for Manchester United given where they’ve come from – they finished 17 points behind Chelsea last season – but stranger things have happened.
Hey Big Spenders
Some of United's recent signings:
- Angel di Maria £59.7 million
- Juan Mata £37.1m
- Ander Herrera £29m
- Marouane Fellaini £27.5m
- Luke Shaw £27m
- Morgan Schneiderlin £25m
- Memphis Depay £25m
- Marcos Rojo £16m
- Bastian Schweinsteiger £14.4m
- Daley Blind £13.8m
I’d expect them to go to another level, but the one thing Manchester United have to do is start performing. They haven’t spent all that money on players for them to dish out performances like they did last year and like they did in the first game of this season against Tottenham. That wasn’t good enough. It was a very, very poor performance.
People can say it was the first game or whatever, but judging by van Gaal’s face, he wants more, which I quite like. I don’t like the attitude that the first game is all about three points. If you’re Manchester United, performance makes a lot of difference as well. If you want to go forward, it’s not just about winning games, it’s about performances. Good performances mean more people at games, which leads to people buying more merchandise. It’s all part of the overall plan at a club like Manchester United.
Comings and goings
In terms of some of the individual players associated with the Red Devils, I’m just so disappointed with what’s happened with Angel Di Maria and I think a lot of people are. At the end of the day he wasn’t useless, things just didn’t work out for him. Mentally I think he was shaken up by what happened with the burglary at his house back in February (Di Maria and his wife and daughter were watching television when there was an attempted break-in at his former Manchester home) and I think the whole culture change of coming to England, and maybe coming to Manchester as well. That might have been the difference.
There’s a big difference in going to London or in going to Manchester. It can be the same in any major city. If you go to Melbourne or Sydney, it’s a different lifestyle to going to the smaller cities like Adelaide or Brisbane. People are maybe a bit more parochial and on top of you. Manchester is a football community and people are all over you. You can go to London and go to bars and people know who you are, but they respect your space.
That brings me to the David De Gea situation. The thing I’m most concerned about is Manchester United are where they are now because of him. There’s no other way about it. Manchester United would not be in the Champions League if it wasn’t for David De Gea. It’s there in black and white.
The last thing you want is a player sitting there running out a contract. It’s not good for the club’s integrity and the way they run themselves. If the Real Madrid deal doesn’t come off, they can’t have him just sitting there. You can’t have him sitting there because as it gets to near the back end, he’s in a vulnerable position as a goalkeeper. Does he want to come out and make that last-ditch save at someone’s feet to maybe win a semi-final of the Champions League, because he’s worried about his next move? By January, he’ll know where he’s going. Real Madrid might say ‘we’ll come back and get you for nothing’. The whole thing isn’t good for a club like Manchester United to be going that way. They have to make a stand and tough it out and hopefully things will work out.
I feel both of those situations would have been handled differently under Sir Alex. Knowing Manchester the way he does and knowing the make-up of people and how to get the best out of people – English, South American, European – I think it would’ve worked out. His man-management skills would’ve won out and Di Maria would’ve been what Manchester United is all about, that kind of marquee player coming to play for them. It’s no different to how it was back in 1991 when Eric Cantona came to Manchester United. We were just told, regardless of anything else, to give the ball to him, especially when he asked for it.
Even if you see five people wrapped around him, give him the ball if he asks for it and that’s what was done because we respected those kind of players.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Van Gaal. It was never going to be long-term appointment, just by his age. He’s 64 and I believe he’s already said he’s going to retire by 2017. I think somewhere along the line they’re trying to get Ryan Giggs involved. I really don’t know if that’s going to work.
There has been some commentary in the past that Van Gaal is a bit like Jose Mourinho, in terms of squeezing what they can out of a club before moving on. But I’d much rather go with a Van Gaal than ever go with a Mourinho. Look at Van Gaal and what he’s achieved and how few people he’s offended. He has issues with players from time to time, like all managers, but he doesn’t have issues with staff. Mourinho has already shown his colours – again – with the situation with the Chelsea doctor. Every third year at a club there’s always something and as we’ve seen what’s happening at the moment, it’s happening again. So I wouldn’t put those two in the same category as liked and disliked. I believe Van Gaal is on the right track at United.
Paul Parker is Technical Director for JSSL Arsenal, Singapore’s No.1 Youth Soccer Club – www.jssl-singapore.com