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Why Man Utd are fast losing traditions with corporate appointment Van Gaal

A first opening day home defeat in 42 years for Manchester United. Welcome to Old Trafford, Louis van Gaal.

Long before the final whistle against Swansea City, it dawned upon the Dutchman that the problems encountered by David Moyes during his year of hell, are the same confronting him: a deteriorating squad, a disconnect between the academy and first team, a flailing vice-chairman masquerading as a football director and an opposition getting stronger by the day.

The problems now facing Van Gaal, that engulfed and consumed Moyes last season, can be overcome. The question is: is he the man to do it?

As Moyes discovered in his two transfer windows in charge, relying on a rookie negotiator, as Ed Woodward is at this level, will leave you chasing down blind alleys with time ticking down to the market deadline.

It was baffling why some leaders in the press praised Woodward last month over his deals for Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw. For the Spaniard, a £36 million buyout clause in his Athletic Bilbao contract was simply met. Van Gaal wanted him - and it looks like at any cost. That's £36 million for a player, not only regarded as not being good enough for a poor Spain World Cup squad, but who also spent much of last season struggling to get off the Bilbao bench.

Then there was last week's revelation from Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, enjoying a swipe at United over their deal for Shaw. £27 million for the former Southampton fullback is excessive, again Woodward was unable to cut a deal in United's favour. But then Mourinho lifted the lid on Shaw's wage demands, insisting there was no way Chelsea would consider such terms for an unproven 19 year-old.

That Shaw joined United in the US unfit and was ordered by Van Gaal to train away from the rest of the squad to get up-to-speed, isn't exactly the right way to justify your wages. Now he's injured and won't be available for the next month - at the very least.

The glaring problem for United, in this scenario, is that Van Gaal is no Sir Alex Ferguson. The Dutchman has always worked with a football director, relying upon such an individual and other board members to negotiate competitive deals for the players he's identified. With Woodward clearly struggling, Van Gaal doesn't boast the experience Ferguson had of personally handling transfer negotiations. Yes, David Gill and before him, Maurice Watkins, would be at the coalface of transfer talks. But it was more often than not that Ferguson would initiate contact.

However, a lot of what is confronting Van Gaal has stemmed from Ferguson's poor management of the playing staff in his final years.

Just like Moyes, Van Gaal is facing a massive rebuilding project at United, made all the more difficult by a raft of departures from the club's successful academy under Ferguson's watch.

Where would United be now if the situations of Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Zeki Fryers had been handled differently? Ferguson isn't to blame on his own, however. United sold Mats Daehli to Molde last summer, only for him to return to the Premier League with Cardiff City in January. On Saturday, Josh Brownhill, just 19 and who United have considered re-signing, was running the show for Preston North End as they thumped four past Scunthorpe United.

For a club built on the traditions of the Busby Babes, something is drastically wrong when so much potential has been allowed to move on.

As he showed in his team selection against Swansea, Van Gaal will back the club's youth. Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard, both former teammates of Pogba, were handed their debuts on Saturday. But the great United tradition of a homespun Ryan Giggs or George Best flying down the Old Trafford wings could well be over under the Dutchman.

Pundits insist Van Gaal's much-vaunted 3-5-2 system, which - by his own admission - he'd dearly prefer to be a 5-3-2 formation with five traditional defenders across the back, is only being employed due to the make-up of his squad.

However, alarmingly for those United fans who have grown up with traditions of a team boasting two aggressive, flying wingers bombing down the flanks, it emerged 24 hours before the Swansea defeat that the U21 team had thumped Norwich City 3-0 playing Van Gaal's 3-5-2 system.

If this is the formation that is to run throughout the club's youth teams - then where does the next Giggs or Best fit in? It's significant that on Friday, against Norwich, Tom Lawrence, the Welsh winger handed his debut by Giggs at the end of last season, was played as a striker.

How will this go down with the Stretford End?

In none of his interviews, has Van Gaal shown any interest in United's traditions. It's really been about the here and now - and what will work for him. Contrast that to how Brendan Rodgers communicates to Liverpool fans, to the respect he has always shown for the club's history.

Can you see Van Gaal going out of his way to highlight an achievement of a former United junior, as Rodgers did last season when then-Southampton striker Rickie Lambert was called up by England? At Anfield, the signing of Lambert, what it means to the club and fans, is beyond words. It is football. It is Liverpool. And only a manager with the humility to work within the cultural boundaries of his club could pull off something so special.

Van Gaal is a great manager. That's beyond dispute. But he looks a corporate hiring. Someone with the profile to appease the shareholders and maintain the stock price.

But it goes beyond the Dutchman. Woodward is a great businessman. He's brought unmatched financial success to United. But, at the moment, he's no football man. Perhaps he'll grow into it.

However, at this stage in the club's history, United are crying out for people to maintain their culture. They need powerbrokers who actually DO recognise leaks to the press about a manager's sacking is wrong. That announcing it on Twitter is unacceptable. And have the stones to inform the new manager, even a heavyweight like Van Gaal, that traditions must be followed.

Without Ferguson's devotion to tradition and the steady, responsible guidance of Gill, the fears expressed by those now committed to FC United are on the brink of becoming reality.

On the pitch, United is clearly in transition. But so is the make-up of the boardroom. United need football people to haul this great sporting club back from the corporate edge.

Chris Beattie
About the author

Chris Beattie

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