In the last week, cracks have appeared in the relationship between Manchester United supporters and their manager, Louis Van Gaal. With supporters openly chanting “We`re Man United, we want to attack”, “Attack,attack,attack” and roundly booing the substitution of Anthony Martial in the Champions League game in midweek, there is a danger with United`s current band of football that those cracks can only widen.
It is well documented that United fans very rarely boo their own, whether players or management even through really bad times the supporters never turned on David Moyes despite horrendous home defeats to their harshest rivals Liverpool and Manchester City. You have to go back to the late 1980`s when the supporters turned on the then manager, Alex Ferguson who was struggling to lift United out of the shadow of the all conquering Liverpool.
Football has changed since the 1980`s with managers and players getting hardly any honeymoon period before the knives are out. Whether that is down to 24 hour media with television stations having to fill programmes, newspapers having to fill column inches, supporters having more of a voice with online forums and social media or whether over time, owners have become less patient with their managers especially with the money to be earned at the top table of football.
Despite United supporters being supportive of their own, they are entitled to their opinions and voice their displeasure but it is unusual to see it so clear on the terraces. Van Gaal still has an excellent relationship with the fans and he must know himself that the football served up by his team is slow, boring and predictable.
Yet on their day they can turn it on with the best, Everton away was a classic counter attacking performance not to mention Van Gaal has an excellent record against the top sides, with the exception of the recent defeat to Arsenal.
United have a perfect record against Liverpool even in friendlies under the Dutchman and tactically Van Gaal has his side prepared for those games superbly. It is good to remember that under Ferguson`s great sides, they could churn out some average at best performances but supporters overriding memory of that era is of fast flowing attacking football where sides were beaten into submission.
Maybe that is one of the issues, United supporters are guilty of being like Liverpool fans who expect their current side to play “the Liverpool way”. What is that? Your talking of great sides, settled sides with settled managers. Today you have a different man in charge and he will bring different ideas and different styles of football. You also have to recognise that Van Gaal has yet to complete two full seasons in charge.
There has been a massive turnover of staff within the squad and players take time to settle into life at another club, city or in some situations a different country. Luke Shaw is a classic example of this, last season he struggled for form and fitness, yet a decent pre season under his belt and he was on fire before he broke his leg.
The frustrating thing with Van Gaal`s team is that one day they can be on fire, look at the run in March and April last season which started with the convincing win over Tottenham at Old Trafford, yet they have got into a rut of possession football that is slow to get up the pitch.
When United looked for Moyes`s replacement I am sure many fans would have wanted a man who would not crumble under the weight of expectation at Old Trafford. A man who could handle the pressures of the media, who had experience of managing huge clubs in Europe, who had won silverware and had a determination to do it their own way. Van Gaal fitted that profile perfectly and there were very few arguments from supporters against his appointment.
What you now get with Van Gaal is a steely determination to do things his way, whether players or supporters like it or not, very much like Ferguson who never wilted under pressure from fans about the Glazers or about formations or playing players out of position. Many times supporters sang the name of a player on the bench in a hope that Fergie would bring them on, but he rarely did.
All the chanting in the stands will not faze Van Gaal and now people will see why he was known as the “Iron Tulip”. He told the players on Tuesday night to ignore the fans and concentrate on their game.
Van Gaal knows what is needed with this side to progress from last season, he knows how to get there and will trust his players to perform. No player has come out and disrespected the manager whether current or ex player unlike at Chelsea with Jose Mourinho.
That says something of his relationship with his players despite the recent run of form. Since the CSKA Moscow game it is noticeable how may current players have come out and backed what Van Gaal is doing and that they know the club will come out of this run soon enough.
Despite the lack of goals, the team has one of the best defensive records in the league. In David De Gea and Chris Smalling, United now have leaders at the back.
When Van Gaal came into the club it was leaking goals, that has changed as has the midfield with the manager sticking with fans favourite Juan Mata. Despite this the knives are out. It was Mourinho`s turn recently, before him Brendan Rodgers and now it is Van Gaal`s. Many ex United players are suddenly sticking the boot in with Paul Scholes sounding the most bitter of all of them. You never heard Scholes as a player but now he is paid for his opinion, you cannot shut him up.
What is needed is for everyone to channel their energy into getting behind the side, that includes the players being braver to speed up their attacks and the manager to encourage them to do that.
Whilst it is barely a crisis at Old Trafford with champions league knock-out football almost guaranteed from a tight group and only four points off the top spot in the Premier League, the next few weeks will be interesting. If the side can get on a run, playing more attractive football then all will be forgotten. The last thing everyone wants or needs is a winter of discontent around Old Trafford with the supporters turning on their manager.