Van Gaal ignores jeering United supporters in 1-0 win over CSKA
United coach would be foolish to treat fans as fools
MAN UNITED 1
(Wayne Rooney 79)
CSKA MOSCOW 0
Louis van Gaal is playing a dangerous game.
The Manchester United manager would be unwise to confuse a lucky Champions League victory with a bulletproof vest.
Wins are commonplace at Old Trafford, but booing is rare. Sustained booing is unprecedented. Even David Moyes' decisions were never booed like this.
In the post-match press conference, a typically bullish van Gaal claimed he wasn't deaf to the dissent, but he continues to turn a deaf ear to the punters.
Wayne Rooney's 237th goal for United earned the points against CSKA Moscow yesterday morning (Singapore time) and breathing space for his coach.
But van Gaal mixed up victory with vindication. The booing in the 66th minute was mutinous and he ignores it at his peril.
Revolution was in the air when van Gaal removed crowd favourite Anthony Martial and sent on Marouane Fellaini.
In truth, Martial had scored only once in his last nine appearances and flickered against CSKA, but he offered hope where there was none elsewhere.
Throughout the game, sedition spread across the stadium. Whenever a ponderous move broke down, whenever a stuttering attack faltered against a limited side, the chant echoed around Old Trafford.
"We're Manchester United, we want to attack."
Van Gaal said he heard the booing, but still closes his ears to the growing disquiet.
Until Rooney put away an excellent header, the Red Devils had gone 404 minutes without scoring. The goal ended the drought, but not the pattern of play.
United remain agonisingly slow, barely capable of euthanising a comatose side that came not to lose and almost stole a victory when Seydou Doumbia was denied just before Rooney scored.
On more than one occasion, Bastian Schweinsteiger took possession and threw his arms up in disgust, looking for a target that wasn't there.
The German's fitness struggles hardly helped, but the inconvenient truth remains that the most expensively assembled side in the club's history boast not a single player who can burst through midfield.
Martial was the only United player with pace on offer and he was taken off.
Jesse Lingard provided flashes of ingenuity, but only after he switched flanks when Martial was substituted, a move that van Gaal gleefully waved in the air like a get-out-of-jail card.
Lingard's volleyed assist for Rooney's header was sublime, but the route to goal was almost an afterthought.
Van Gaal's primary objective was clearly to send Fellaini behind an advanced Rooney, with Michael Carrick directing aerial balls towards the mighty afro to compensate for the side's lack of speed.
The Dutchman got lucky. Doumbia's miss and a single, superb move from United covered the imperfections.
But van Gaal has never been one to let humility get in the way of hubris and his chest-beating defiance seems a risky venture.
He's practically goading the fans to defy him, as if questioning his selections and substitutions reveals their ignorance rather than his mistakes.
Before the game, he accused critics of having selective memories, pointing out that Old Trafford hasn't always been the Theatre of Dreams.
But it has. It just hasn't always been a theatre of triumph.
It's a subtle distinction that van Gaal refuses to make.
United didn't always win, even under Sir Alex Ferguson, but they always probed. Speed was an essential prerequisite. Even when they failed, they were still fast.
But this is football for snails. Schweinsteiger, Carrick and Juan Mata were three great football brains in search of workable legs.
Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young were effectively cricket runners, sprinting between the byelines on behalf of their static teammates.
More enterprising sides than CSKA Moscow will profit from the spaces vacated by the overworked fullbacks.
Ander Herrera, Lingard and Martial hint at United's potential, but van Gaal won't field all three together, persisting with a tired template stifled by players who cannot get behind their opponents.
The Dutchman just about got away with it, benefiting from a lucky substitution, but he should pay more attention to the rebellious mood than the final result.
Old Trafford tiptoed towards open revolt in the second half. The volatile fault line between what van Gaal thinks United need and what the fans want is widening.
The Dutchman must listen carefully.
As he said, he's not deaf. And United's fans are not dumb.
Of course, I am not deaf. That is the opinion of the fans. Afterwards they shall not be disappointed by the decision of the manager. I’m very happy because I put him (Rooney) again in the striker’s position and he scored.
— Louis van Gaal, standing by his controversial decision to substitute Anthony Martial for Marouane Fellaini
(He told us) to keep going, to keep performing the same as the first half, to be patient, ignore the fans and keep playing your own game, so hopefully the goal will come.
— Jesse Lingard, revealing that Louis van Gaal told the United players to forget about the crowd at half-time