Throughout the speculation surrounding managerial takeover one man looked perfectly suited to fit the role that Manchester United desperately needed to fill. With an impressive track record boasting the development of world talents such as Clarence Seedorf, Thomas Muller and the two Barcelona maestros Hernandez Xavi and Andres Iniesta, one man was favourite to take the job. With Louis van Gaal’s youth investment policy that mirrored that of the eminent Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby who built Manchester United’s well respected image that we know of today, he appeared as the perfect replacement to take the team forward into a new era. In the summer of 2014 the speculation turned into plausibility which turned into fact.
When Van Gaal took over the excitement surrounding the fans and the club was almost tangible. The typical inclusion of the youth in the preseason tour saw a promising start to Van Gaal philosophy. However the big summer budget that was used to break the english record transfer fee and bring in a number of pricey recruitments set questions as to whether Van Gaal had plans to continue with his renowned ability to produce young stars. Further doubt was also cast when the likes of Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley were sold as they were deemed surplus to requirements.
One year on and Van Gaal has completed his first season as a Manchester United manager with a team that has finished fourth in the premier league table – clinching that illustrious UEFA Champions League spot. At times the performances looked worthy of a higher position, but there was also periods of sub par form which probably justifies the final outcome of the season. But what have we seen from the youth involvement that was hinted upon?
Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair, James Wilson, Andreas Pereira (although very briefly) and Adnan Januzaj have all featured in the Dutchman’s Premier League campaign. Although these players were mainly used in times of injury to fill in voids in the team, in the large part they did not choke under first team pressure with a number of convincing performances. Van Gaal had the belief that these players could play a role in the team which they did more than sufficiently, repaying his faith. Something we saw time and time again under Sir Alex Ferguson. On the other hand they did not pull up trees. With every player that returned, the young prospects received less and less game time, leading a thought as to whether these players would have featured at all this season if the team was not disrupted from an unpredictable quantity of injuries.
But again we see this summer another big spend in the offing, with big name signings being linked left right and centre. Are Manchester United following the same path as Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City, driven by more than wealthy owners?
With new financial fair play and homegrown inclusion regulations we may see the ‘galactico’ style of team building suffer slightly. Nevertheless even if these changes are superficial United as a club will have the ability to adapt. If these new rules are enhanced and enforced Van Gaal has the ability and proven track record to develop and improve youth prospects. But if they are merely words in the air to appease other ‘less well off’ clubs Manchester United and Van Gaal, now with revived UEFA Champions League status will also be able to attract players of high quality and performance. Either way United fans should be confident that their club can return to the top of world football in the not too distant future.
This article was researched and written by Zachary Gain. You can follow him on Twitter.