Manchester United going Dutch or is Van Persie talking double Dutch?
Louis van Gaal is set to turn to compatriot Robin van Persie as his potential stand-in captain at Manchester United, while Wayne Rooney serves a three-match ban for his sending off against West Ham United.
The Red Devils are 12/1 chances with Coral to be Premier League champions in the decorated Dutchman’s first season in charge, and he has Van Persie as a major disciple of his philosophy. Working together over the last two years with the Netherlands national team, the striker is a favourite of Van Gaal’s, making him a perfect lieutenant for imparting ideas to United players.
On his manager’s style and approach, Van Persie said: “It’s very demanding in a good way as you have to be focused every single day of the sessions or the meeting.
“He wants players to get involved in the meeting too. You have to give your own input, which is what the staff likes. That’s a bit of the Dutch thing.
“Everybody gets involved in the project. We are all working on it. Everyone has their own say, which is maybe new for some players but not for me as I know how he works.
“I think it’s very interesting and very good because we are all pulling on the same rope – as the Dutch say. We all have one target, which is to win and win as much as we can.”
Metaphors aside, this concept of player input seems a far cry from the old school, control is everything management of Sir Alex Ferguson. It’s ironic in a season during which the Red Devils are not competing in the Champions League, the media glare seems to be even more intense at Old Trafford.
Sensationalism always seems to lie around the corner for media outlets. Victories, like the one over QPR, are hailed as heralding the Van Gaal era beginning in earnest, while subsequent defeats, say at Leicester City, see phrases like ‘false dawn’ bandied about like so much confetti.
It may surprise punters to learn that United have never taken maximum points during the opening six games of their last five Premier League title-winning campaigns. Their average tally is 11.8 from the first 18 on offer from those seasons, so Van Gaal is only really a win shy of being where he should be.
When you factor in the injuries in defence, and midfielder Ander Herrera can now be added to that list, eight points doesn’t seem so disastrous. An all-out attack philosophy is the common denominator whether it’s three at the back or four but, over the course of a season which could still contain 45 games plus for the Red Devils, how sustainable is the Total Football blueprint?
For tournament football, a maximum of seven or eight games, it works, as evidenced by the Netherlands finishing third at the recent World Cup in Brazil. Trying to play high tempo for nine months instead of one, however, presents a whole host of dangers. Injuries and getting rotation right are simply chief among them.
Even Barcelona adapted Total Football to their own ends with tiki-taka, combining the tenets of possession with a more patient, probing game. Van Gaal’s game is all about running, though, not diminutive talent with a low centre of gravity unlocking doors or walking the ball into the net. Balance, be it midfield diamonds or wing back systems, remains the biggest issue.
And all this talk of lucrative, midweek friendlies may be counter-productive. Granted, it’s good for the coffers, but jet-setting travel without a competitive edge does seem like an accountant’s unimaginative solution. Good work is being done on United’s training ground, a subject which Van Persie also alluded to.
“If I look at what I have seen in training and on the pitch in games, I can see that it is getting much better,” he added. “We are improving every day and getting better. Some training sessions are incredible and we are showing that in games as well.”
Show it the Red Devils must against an Everton outfit that came to Old Trafford and upset them last term. Van Gaal is odds-on at 4/6, however, to address that by seeing his charges come out on top from their tangle with the Toffees.