The season is coming to a close now across the European domestic leagues, with Chelsea, Bayern, Juventus and PSV already champions in their respective countries. In England, the relegation battle is all but sealed up, with Burnley and QPR already condemned to the drop zone. The third spot is likely to be filled by either Hull City or Newcastle United.
The Premier League and football as a whole has drama that puts the best soap operas on ‘Telemundo’ to shame, twists and turns that make us football maniacs lose sleep, thinking about our teams next fixtures, injuries, formations and banter; you name it. But with the season drawing to a close all over Europe, the drama has Is far from over.
Enter the summer transfer window,where the real drama lies. In England, Chelsea won the league at home to Crystal Palace but to be honest, that title was won as soon as the transfer window slammed shut last summer. Chelsea addressed the problems that made them lose out on the title last year head on first by getting rid of the largely ineffective Fernando Torres and replacing him with a world class striker in Diego Costa. They also managed to bring in Cesc Fabregas, one of the best midfielders in the game at the moment, Thibauit courtois,who was on loan at the Atletico Madrid and grew in leaps and bounds during his stint there to literally walk in and take the gloves off another world class keeper in Petr Cech. (I mean, the boy has won back to back titles in two different countries!) The coup of Nemanja Matic,who is deemed the prodigal son at Chelsea,was brought in during the January transfer window in 2014 and has been fantastic at the base of that effective Chelsea wall (
or bus, if you prefer). They sold wisely too, releasing Mata for a hefty 37 million, and David Luis for a massive 50 million. The best part is that they managed to get all the players in before pre-season,allowing them to train , play and get familiar with each other in good time before the season kicks off. Add that kind of squad to one of the best managers in the world and you have created a juggernaut that has led literally from day one to the last in the league,In the process showing the chasing pack and the world that you don’t have to win pretty to be the best.
At my beloved United, the summer brought with it some massive signings, not least the capture of Louis Van Gaal ,who had just led the Netherlands to a third placed finish in the World Cup (with that dreaded 3-5-2 formation) and who boosts of a successful career at top European giants Bayern , Barcelona and Ajax. Having managed the biggest egos in world football, won Champions League titles with experienced youngsters (read kluivert) and the swagger and arrogance to match, he was and still is to me, the perfect man for the job. What followed was a flurry of signings that made the United faithful lose sleep, thinking of how United were going to dominate English and European football right after having the most disastrous season under David Moyes ,who destroyed what Sir Alex built for 27 years in just over seven months. The signings of Di maria and Falcao put every united fan in dreamland ,along with what I like to call ‘moyes signings’ Ander Herrera (whose 29 million transfer fee looked overpriced at first but is now looking like a bargain) and Luke Shaw. Daley blind and Marcos Rojo were also brought in to jolt the defence. Van Gaal also cut lose the players he deemed not fit to play for United, with the likes of Shinji Kagawa sold back to Dortmund after failing to make the desired impact,Tom Cleverley, Nani and ’Chicharito’ who were loaned out to Villa ,Sporting Lisbon and Real Madrid respectively. And who can forget ‘dat guy Welbz ‘who was sold to bitter rivals arsenal, with Van Gaal particularly critical of the Manchester born and bred striker about his overall lack of goals,which of course came to bite us right back with that winner in a certain cup quarterfinal. Karma stings, particularly in football.
Eight Months down the line and with the first season of the Van Gaal era coming to a close, I would like to start by doing a candid assessment of the performance of the new recruits:
Angel Di Maria
The most expensive signing in British history awarded the iconic #7 jersey arrived at Old Trafford with swagger that lit up the league in the opening games (that chip against Leicester City earlier in the season was class) with electric pace and sumptuous deliveries into the box. That soon faded as LVG tinkered with the formation and system, playing the wide man in all sorts of position which seemed to drain and alter his playing style. This coupled with troubles he has had such as the break -in in his home during mid season, led to his dip in form. Di maria has not seemed to recover well but despite this has managed to rack up 4 goals and an impressive 10 assists in his first season in England. The apparent lengthy time that it has taken for him to ‘settle down’ has led to rumors of PSG coming for his signature, but to be honest I don’t think United would let that happen, especially after just one season. The stats show that he has done fairly alright in his first season but I think we all expected much more from Di Maria. My take is he will definitely blossom next season. People call him a flop but looking at the stats, I shudder to think how he will be once he actually starts playing well.
Every time I think of Falcao it makes me want to cry. This was not the case when news came in that one of the most prolific strikers in European football was signing for United, albeit on loan. His stunning hat trick against Chelsea in the Super Cup while playing for Atletico was pure gold. I got weak in the knees thinking of Di maria’s pitch perfect crosses meeting with Falcao’s ruthless finishing. This has never materialized unfortunately, with Falcao scoring a mere four goals all season. I think Falcao still has the quality to make it in England, but I doubt it will be at United. To be fair, United’s style of play has also hindered the strikers contribution. Falcao likes to play on the shoulder of his defender and United’s build up from midfield has either been too slow or too fast at times. The pace of the English game has not helped either and his injuries coupled with the overall lack of match fitness and of course, painfully poor goal return, has had him labeled the flop of the season(after the likes of Ballotelli, of course). I think maybe, just maybe if Ed Woodward can be able to convince Monaco to work something out that will keep him around; perhaps an extended loan deal which will allow him to get his match fitness by having a solid pre season under his belt, get him a good run of games at the start of the season and if he still misfires, ship him out in January. He has shown glimpses of a proper number nine, particularly against Chelsea a couple of weeks ago, but at United we need a players who get the job done and not one players who ‘try’.
Blind was a good signing for united. Never really knew much about him before the World Cup but after his performances with the Oranje I was more than excited to have him on board. Daley is best known for his versatility and great reading of the game, having had stints at center back, holding midfield And left back, where I think he is best. He was a pig part of the recent mini resurgence that saw united beat city, Liverpool and spurs in the ‘Rat race’ that is a top four finish . I thought he would be the direct replacement for Carrick going forward but a couple of games in that role in the absence of Carra has made me seriously doubt that. All in all he can only improve and at 24, still has time to become a top player at united and an integral part of the famed Van Gaal ‘philiosphy’.
The Argentine immediately handed in a transfer request as soon as united came calling. Another player I did not know much of before the World Cup, I had to do some research to see exactly what we were getting. He has a knack for the spectacular from distance and has marshaled the defense well when called upon at center back. The left foot center back that Van Gaal wanted, Rojo has had a fairly good first season, managing to score in the FA cup and putting in a good shift overall when called upon. Again a player that can only improve immensely under the stewardship of Van Gaal ,Rojo has the chance to establish himself as a first team player at United next season, with his ability to play at both CB and LB making him a valuable asset to the team.
Herrera has been fantastic since recovering from a shaky start of the season. A typically classy Spanish midfielder with an eye for goal, Herrera fought his way back to the team after Van Gaal left him in the cold for a considerable amount of time early in the season for his below standard performances and injuries. From his short intricate passing with the likes of Juan Mata to his eye for a killer pass from deep in midfield, he has been a joy to watch .Add that to some well taken strikes (that Yeovil stunner), Ander is paying back every single dime United spent on him.Paul Scholes himself said he thought Herrera was United’s best signing of the summer. If he can work on his physique a bit more then Ander will undoubtedly be one of the players to watch at united next season and crucial part of van Gaal’s team going forward
The most expensive teenager in world football has found life hard at Old Trafford since joining from Southampton, and has blatantly admitted that he struggled to settle down in his first season. He has also had fitness issues of his own with a recurrent hamstring strain limiting his appearances in the famous red shirt. However, the few times he has shown up for United he has looked good going forward and also tracking back, with his pace and deliveries his major strengths. He was a constant threat when we visited Stamford Bridge, and has come to prove that he is quite comfortable taking on fullbacks one on one. At only eighteen, united have bought the ‘best left back in ten years’, according to united legend Gary Neville, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing a Di Maria –Shaw partnership down the left next season.
At the moment, United have simply not been good enough for me. With the money we have spent, the quality of the players and the manager, we shouldn’t be losing three games on the trot and limping to fourth place.
Granted, the target was to get into the champions league places, and Van Gaal and his men have done a phenomenal job in getting united from mediocrity of mid table to (almost) the champions league within the span of a season, a club like United should never be in this position in the first place.
This post comes to you courtesy of Timothy Opiko, a good friend and equally possessed United lunatic as I am. Check out his previous article here.