Football: Devils have Gall to defy Van Gaal

Louis van Gaal, with Memphis Depay (left) and Wayne Rooney, has seen his team enjoy a big percentage of possession in games but their forward play has not caught the eye with any convincing display of fluidity or imagination. Still, the manager has a
Louis van Gaal, with Memphis Depay (left) and Wayne Rooney, has seen his team enjoy a big percentage of possession in games but their forward play has not caught the eye with any convincing display of fluidity or imagination. Still, the manager has at least managed to steer the Red Devils back to the lucrative Champions League.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Senior players meet van Gaal to voice concern that his methods have curbed freedom to be more creative

LONDON • A delegation of senior Manchester United players - believed to be led by captain Wayne Rooney and vice-captain Michael Carrick - has confronted Louis van Gaal with concerns over his rigid training methods.

United face long-time rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford tomorrow with unhappy players who have asked their manager to allow them to express themselves more freely.

The revelation comes after a stuttering start to the domestic campaign. The Red Devils have scored just three goals in four Premier League matches, and fans are demanding more emphasis on attacking adventure.

Inside the squad, the players have been just as worried.

After discussions inside the dressing room, senior figures approached van Gaal to raise complaints about a lack of creativity.

They feel that training orders have become so inflexible that they are hampering performances.

The confrontation, several weeks ago, did not prompt any immediate change from the Dutchman.

United prepare to face the Merseysiders on the back of a 1-2 defeat by Swansea City before the international break.

There were also other gripes about an autocratic manager, such as an overload of meetings in the run-up to games.

Van Gaal's treatment of Rafael da Silva, sold to Lyon this summer, was also not well received in the Old Trafford dressing room, reported the Telegraph.

Many players felt that the Brazilian, a first-choice right-back under former manager Alex Ferguson but repeatedly overlooked by van Gaal, was not shown the respect he deserved. He had served the club for about seven years.

It is the laboured playing style, however, that has caused the most consternation among the players.

The older players were brought up by Ferguson, and largely raised in a school of attack and adventure, and they, in particular, crave some of that freedom.

Never short of self-belief, van Gaal had his own rebuttal - his long CV, his recent success with the Netherlands national team, perhaps the league table too.

United are fifth, ahead of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea but five points behind Manchester City, the leaders who have 12 points from their first four games.

United are not in crisis but have at times been painfully risk-averse.

Domestic performances this season have yielded just three goals in four games - against Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Swansea.

At the Liberty Stadium, plan B, once again, was to stick Marouane Fellaini up front - a tactic that has been shown to have its uses but will only ever smack of desperation.

This season, van Gaal has cast off the back three - or five - that set up United to be so defensively minded last year.

However, the new 4-2-3-1 formation has hardly released the handbrake. They have not lacked for control or possession of the ball - they enjoyed 65 per cent in losing away to Swansea.

But there has been a turgidness about much of the forward play.

Still, the main imperative for any United manager is success.

Van Gaal will argue that he had one mission when he took over a team who had slumped to seventh in a traumatic season under David Moyes and that was to put them back into the Champions League.

He did that last year and will be expected to do so again.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2015, with the headline 'Devils have Gall to defy Van Gaal'. Print Edition | Subscribe