On the field at least, United's manager has not been a particularly divisive subject for a generation. Alex Ferguson: good. David Moyes: bad. Easy. Of course, there was the traditional weekly head-scratching over Ferguson's selection, safe in a cocoon of success, even if the football became stale towards the end. Then, Moyes unravelling made the transition from backing their new manager to farce and a quick exit painless. Louis van Gaal's second season is set to be a very different affair, one which even level-headed supporters might find a new and troublesome experience.
Despite the apparent blink-and-you'll-miss-it heel turn on Van Gaal happening at the moment, there are as many pluses as minuses for United - a team still coming through major flux dealing with the seismic change it was woefully and arrogantly under-prepared for. For now, most legitimate concerns have a reasonable counter-positive. There are no answers for enchanting hopes or informed misgivings found during the international break, unless something wonderful/terrible happened to Wayne Rooney, nor in the entitled din of the transfer window. One way or the other United just simply need games - big games, against good teams, and no other distractions. Boy, do they have them imminently.
As United headed into spring last season, that period in the league looked daunting and almost beyond them at a vital time. Such is the pressure already being heaped on the manager at this moment, rightly or wrongly, October is looking similarly precarious. Before then, the next three testing matches will set the tone: Liverpool at home, PSV away and Southampton away. Van Gaal relishes rivalries, he also has some personal stock in PSV and Southampton. Ideal or not ideal, depending on your outlook.
Patience seems to be running dry with fears over controlling, possession-based football stifling the speed and imagination previously synonymous with United. The fear being even if it comes good, it won't be good. The latest transfer window has been written off as a shambles. Ryan Giggs is being talked up before the big coats are out, amusingly even by Van Gaal on Wednesday. Golf's Rory McIlroy has waded in with his misgivings.
There are positives, though. United are not far from being a good team. They are building a solid and impressive back four, an area talked up as being the biggest concern just earlier this year, with one piece missing. The goalkeeping situation alone would threaten even the most stable of sides, but by sheer dumb luck they still have David de Gea needing to play and play well for them. Midfield is awash with talent. The front line is a serious worry but there are young prospects with genuine potential if Rooney doesn't get it together or, more likely, is shifted, and Van Gaal chooses to trust them. Not perfect - it scarcely is - but plenty to work with. If Van Gaal left tomorrow, the squad would be in a healthier, more manageable place for someone else to take over than it was before he did. A wee bit thin, granted, but preferable to the bloated muddle shorn of their old leaders.
Van Gaal will certainly need to be lucky with injuries until at least January. He will also again need to settle on his best team rapidly, especially against the abler teams, using a formation lending itself to their strengths. He will need to fill those individuals, and those vying for starts, with the confidence to match their ability in their new club and stages of their careers. The scenes of an infectious manager at the World Cup last summer needs to be replicated with a red tie on. This is his team now, there are no excuses this season for a risible campaign.
They need to win games (I'm available if they don't). Then win a couple with a swagger. Then see where it takes them. The fillip for the manager beating Liverpool, PSV and Southampton might just rub off on those players, and it might even become a fun laying of foundations during his relatively short tenure. Equally, losing those three would be wounding for Van Gaal and cloyingly toxic heading into October killing off any chance of the flourish craved. The process is going to quicken a little - ready or not. Exciting, unless you have already written him off.
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