Marouane Fellaini has become an important part of the Manchester United first team
The season’s conclusion is very much on the horizon following a whirlwind of a campaign that saw Manchester United reclaim back a Champions League spot. United will again be at the table of European football’s elite, providing of course Louis van Gaal’s men can overcome the awkwardness of the initial canapes, the dreaded preliminary round.
Lets forget that of course on what is today a carnival of football and indeed Le King’s 49th birthday. United’s manager will finally have a break following season that included guiding the Netherlands to the brink of the World Cup final, Luke Shaw will no doubt be going easy on the burgers following last summer’s debacle and of course the crazy time of the year that is the summer transfer window – where 17 year old spotty teenagers take on the alias of a football agent, hidden behind the mask of @transferguy with the aim to amass a significant social following having spouted absolute nonsense.
With United travelling to relegation bound Hull City, and of course ex-captain Steve Bruce, where the whole nations whispers – “Can Hull City actually beat Manchester United having not beaten them since 1974 considering the inevitability of yet another Newcastle United defeat?”. Its a long whisper. But that is indeed all there is left to play for. United will surely not lose to a Hull City side, which have been turned over the past three times the club has come to town. This also includes a final day victory over relegation threatened Hull, week before the 2009 Champions League final – where United played a weakened side. Hull City and orange faced Phil Brown stayed up that day, but Bruce faces a much more difficult task.
With the season drawing to a close, take a a look at our five concluding points for the 2014/15 season.
Louis van Gaal – what a guy
He gets it. It is madness to think that many suggested Louis van Gaal wouldn’t make an impact at Old Trafford. The Dutchman has guided United to a top four finish, which after a season of turmoil from the last campaign under David Moyes, the club can rub shoulders with the big boys of the Champions League once again. United fans were eagerly anticipating more hilarious stories for Louis van Gaal in his United blazer, however – none can match the “showing of the testicles” he so proudly demonstrated during his time at Bayern Munich.
Many felt that David Moyes was treated harshly and his dismissal was too soon. That may be so, but he was never a Manchester United manager in the first place and it was hard to see the club ever challenging for honours under his leadership. Of course, any fan wants to see his club win – but most importantly for United fans, it is to see open attacking good football. Moyes couldn’t deliver on either front and struggled to come to terms with the monumental task and was often found wanting in post and pre match interviews. His comments regarding why he declined to take off Robin van Persie in the 1-0 defeat at home to Newcastle in the December of 2013 (“everybody would have said what are you doing?” were his exact words) spoke volumes of a man very aware that he was being scrutinised for any decision he would make.
Enter Louis van Gaal, who simply doesn’t care what others think of him. He doesn’t get on with the legendary and equally as stubborn Johan Cryuff following a disagreement at Ajax and he could not care less. He has a vision, a philosophy and a way of managing his sides. This has resulted in league titles everywhere he has gone, a Champions League win and of course, giving youngsters the chance to shine on the greatest stage, including Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Xavi Hernandez. His wealth of football knowledge across multiple countries and his personality make him the ideal Manchester United manager for where the club is right now. He is much more in the Sir Alex Ferguson mould than David Moyes ever was.
As mentioned at his speech at the end of season awards, he believes United can challenge Chelsea for the title next season. Strong words from the Manchester United manager, even if he did resemble the best man at the end of a long wedding, telling everyone how much he loves them.
Will he stay or will he go?
The question on everyone lips at Hull City today. Will David De Gea be a Manchester United player next season? If I was to put a tenner down, hand on heart, I would have to say that he will be at Madrid. De Gea has been an absolute revolution this season and has developed into the best keeper in Europe. Manchester United’s decision to buy the youngster from Atletico Madrid, when many had suggested the club break the bank for Manuel Neuer, looks now to be a bargain at only £17million. The club are in the Champions League for next season, the manager has suggested United will bring in new faces in the summer and he is adored by the fans – what crazy circus could lure him away from such a place?
That circus has come sniffing around many times before. Real Madrid are preparing to break the bank for David De Gea and to offer Gareth Bale in return for his services, more on that later. The young keeper has only a single year left on his contract, which expires in the summer of 2016. He has the choice to extend his contract at Manchester United or the club will have no choice but to cash in on their prized asset. Iker Casillas, the highest capped Spanish player of all time, is now struggling to get into your Tuesday night Power League team – so it makes sense for the club to invest in De Gea, who is looking more likely to follow Casillas at both club and country level.
A few months ago, we blogged about keeping De Gea is pivotal for Manchester United – not just because he is a class act, but because what type of message does it send out to lose such a talent as soon a rival comes knocking. Arsenal fans were furious when Robin van Persie left, both at the club (at the time) and also at their captain. United fans will of course be more understanding considering he, and his girlfriend, are from Madrid.
Victor Valdes was an odd signing for Manchester United, considering the quality and experience his possess – why would he be comfortable sitting on the bench behind a younger and better keeper? He wouldn’t, which is why it is more than likely David De Gea will depart in the summer for a hefty fee. Louis van Gaal still believes David De Gea will decide in the favour of United – I hope he is right.
A season of revivals
Firstly, let me say this. Fair play to Marouane Fellaini, who has turned around a career at Manchester United, which looked destined for failure. He has become a vitally important part of United’s first team, with his strength, ariel ability and linking up on United’s left hand side with the always improving Luke Shaw and equally rejuvenated Ashley Young.
I thought Fellaini was a goner this time last season. His introduction to United was an uninspiring occasions. United had been linked with Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas and in the dying hours of the summer 2013 transfer window, the club ended up paying over the odds for the new manager’s old boy. Brilliant. Having then seen Moyes sacked, running the ball out of play against Bayern Munich – something you wouldn’t see at a under tens game – and been linked with a move to Napoli, Fellaini’s time was surely up? We also run a poll to see if fans felt Fellaini was indeed the worst signing (not worst player) the club have made considering his fee.
Thankfully, Fellaini has left us with egg of our face as the tall Belgian midfielder came back into the side towards the middle to end of the season and helped turn fortunes around. He was part of the side that beat Spurs 3-0, Liverpool 2-1 and Manchester City 4-2 – scores you could not have dreamt of this time last campaign – and of course, goals from Fellaini in there as well. He may not fit the blueprint of an orthadox Manchester United footballer, or come anywhere close to it – but his revival is one of the talking points of the season.
Fellow struggler from last season, Ashley Young, was also high on the exit list of most Manchester United fans last summer, that is until he was converted into a cultured wing back in Louis van Gaal’s 3-5-2 formation. A pulled hamstring against Stoke City on New Year’s Day saw an ended to those galloping runs up and down on the left, for a player who hadn’t shown as much promise since that 8-2 victory over Arsenal in 2011. Young returned to find that United had scrapped the wing backs and gone for four at the back, which of course was logically considering there weren’t any injury constraints, like earlier on in the season. Of course though, how could Ashley Young slot in a side when you have the likes of Angel Di Maria, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie available.
Quite easily actually, and his performances on the left hand side of a 4-3-3 have been exceptional, ever since he scored the calamitous winner against Newcastle United back in March. Its hard to believe that Young, who would so often cut inside or look devoid of any confidence to take on players, had transformed into Ronaldo. Ok, a bit far fetched, but he has given numerous right backs a torrid time this season, with nutmegs, backheels and inch perfect crosses to the back post. If David De Gea is Manchester United’s best player this season, Ashley Young would surely have come in second place.
Lastly, a quick note for Juan Mata, who scored the best goal of the campaign away at Liverpool in front of the United fans. Mata is pure class, always has been. The issue was, and not to again criticise Moyes, but his arrival appeared to be that of a panic buy – something to appease the fans. He is a number ten, but happily plays on the right hand side of the front three, tucking in to allow the galloping Antonio Valencia to overlap. He has struck up a good partnership with Ander Herrera and scored some fine goals. Not a revival but a reminder of class.
Form is temporary, class is….
If Young and Fellaini are two shining examples of revival, then Angel Di Maria and Falcao surely epitomise a Don Draper style fall from grace. Di Maria is he most expensive signing in English football, costing nearly £60million whilst the Colombian Falcao was on reportedly £250,000 per week. Both players cut lonely figured towards the backend of United’s campaign. Di Maria didn’t even feature against Arsenal, whilst Falcao resembled Bambi on ice, if indeed Bambi was wearing football boots was then shot. Both have come to Old Trafford with big, well earned, reputations and haven’t come anywhere near the performances that were expected.
Di Maria began brilliantly and United fans were rubbing their hands and just how easy it was for him in certain matches. He scored a beautiful goal against Leicester City, one of the best of the season and you felt that he would just push on as the season evolved. Sadly, it didn’t happen and he was blighted by injuries and of course the horrendous experience with regards to the burglary at his home. From December onwards, Di Maria struggled in a red shirt and, even when the team was playing well and he entered the fold, he appeared to lack conviction, confidence and awareness of where he was (think about catching the ball at Anfield whilst still on the pitch).
He is a shadow of the Real Madrid midfielder who terrorised defenders, accelerated away to get the whole team up the pitch and the big performer in the big games – picking up the player of the match award in last season’s Champions League. It is a very big fall from grace, but – it is his debut season and he is still a class act. United fans will be hoping a good rest this summer followed by a hard pre-season will ensure that Di Maria regains that confidence that made him one of the hottest properties in world football.
Falcao on the other hand, will surely be off following the close of the season. He has struggled to perform to the levels fans saw at Atletico and FC Porto, but again – he still dones have the class to shine somewhere, it just won’t be at United. Recovering from a serious knee injury can take time but as other have shown, think Alessandro Del Piero, you can change your game as you get older and still be influential on the pitch.
Barmy transfer links
Lastly, to the subject that will now be on everyones lips until September 1st – the transfer window. David De Gea, if he decides to leave, will be the biggest blow to United, but if he does indeed venture to the Spanish capital, could another significant player be heading the other way? No, not Ronaldo.
Sir Alex Ferguson spoke about missing out on Bale when he was at Southampton in 2007, citing the club “never called him back”. David Moyes was also looking to bring Bale to Old Trafford and was keen to match the astronomical fee paid by Real Madrid to Tottenham back in 2013, however – the Welshman decided to head to Spain. There are heavy rumours that Bale could be ready to pack up and head back to the Premier League following a difficult second season at the club. He will forever be in Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow.
This is a fact that he and all fans of the game need to face up to. Ronaldo, as we all know, is one the greats in the game. Whilst at Old Trafford, he took the side onto another level, smashing 42 goals home in 2007/08 – whilst epitomising the “Manchester United way”, with his dribbling, skill and at such a young age. He is going to become, when he finishes playing, the second top goal scorer in La Liga of ALL time (second to only Lionel Messi, who has been at Barcelona longer obviously) with a, current, goal scoring record of 1.21 per game. Phenomenal.
Gareth Bale will never be Ronaldo, nor reach the height at Madrid, whilst Ronaldo is there, despite being a more expensive player. Harry Redknapp speaks of confidence issues and self doubt whilst he was manager of Spurs and Bale was playing at left back. You need to be a certain character to face up to the snarls and demands of the Bernabeu caldron and Bale looks to be struggling at present. Will this be the biggest transfer saga of the summer and will Gareth Bale be key in whether or not David De Gea stays or goes to Madrid? He will not be cheap, but would flourish at Old Trafford. His experiences at Real Madrid will do him wonders in a red shirt and the fans will get behind him.
Paul Pogba is another who has been linked to Old Trafford. Some of the fees being branded around range from £60million to £70million – a fee that in theory, United shouldn’t really be paying as the player was under contract at United before leaving on a Bosman ruling for Juventus in 2012. Fast forward three years and Pogba has won another Scudetto title, won the Copa Italia and is now on the eve of the Champions League final against Barcelona. Pogba is also a permanent fixture in the France national team. It is all so disappointing for United fans who watched the 2011 Youth Cup winners slowly dismantle, with Ravel Morrison trying to kick start a promising career in Italy.
I saw Pogba play in the semi-final away at Chelsea of that season and he was head and shoulders above any player on the pitch that day. Sure, he his tall and lanky frame gave him an advantage, but in terms of vision and skill – you could tell he was going to make it big. In the end it came down to he thought he was ready, Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t and in that New Year’s Eve defeat to Blackburn Rovers in 2011/12 – Pogba decide he wouldn’t get a chance at Old Trafford. Will United spend a big fee on a player that should now be playing in the midfield at Old Trafford?
The last transfer that will surely not go away, despite his club distancing him from a move, is Mats Hummels. Tall, strong and still quite young – Hummels would be an excellent addition to a developing back line and will offer experience and leadership, which has seen him reach the heights of the Champions League and World Cup finals – losing the first and winning the latter. It is fair to say that United should have invested in a quality centre half post the World Cup last summer, however – only Marcos Rojo was brought in as cover for central or left back. He would cost big money, considering he has two years left on his contract – but with no Champions League football and the departing Jurgen Klopp, he might find a move to England a little more appealing than he did last summer.