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When Louis Van Gaal was first appointed as the manager of Manchester United, many commented that his charismatic, confident personality was exactly what the club needed. The general consensus was that he should be able to pull the club back up from mid-table to becoming title contenders once more. In and amongst all the media hype, the Dutchman announced that people were to judge him after three months in the job. A bold statement indeed, and one that Van Gaal has been left to almost immediately regret considering he has since overseen United’s worst start to a league campaign since 1986.
Upon narrowly losing the recent Manchester derby 1-0, Van Gaal has adjusted his timeline by now claiming that United are “in a process that could take three years.” This marks an incredibly drastic change from what he first said back in July. It would appear that the manager has either severely underestimated the task presented to him or that he was merely playing upon media expectation when he said three months.
Looking at the situation as a Manchester United fan myself, I personally believe that Van Gaal’s original claim was rather irrational, if anything. For me, any sort of meaningful rebuild would take three years at least, possibly extending to four or even five years. To return the club to a position where they are able to mount a serious challenge for the title and regularly progress to the latter stages of the Champions League has to be a priority in terms of aims for these three to five years.
With regards to this season, it is clear that the crucial objective for Van Gaal is to get United back into the top four. A swift return to the Champions League is paramount, not only for pure footballing reasons, but also for financial reasons. Not being in Europe’s elite club competition has inevitably led to a loss of revenue for the club. Whilst United as a business will survive perfectly fine without Champions League football for one year, spending two consecutive years out of the competition would start to have a detrimental financial effect.
Bearing in mind that United were humiliated by MK Dons in the Capital One Cup, if Van Gaal does achieve a top four finish and accompanies this with a decent run in the FA Cup, that would constitute success for his first season in charge.
In Van Gaal’s defence, his team is still adapting to a new system, with six summer signings all vying for a place in the starting eleven. Furthermore, injuries to some of these new signings, such as Marcus Rojo and Radamel Falcao, have hardly helped matters. Once Van Gaal has a full strength squad at his disposal, I would expect the team to start firing on all cylinders in a bid for the top four.
Overall, I do believe that Van Gaal will eventually succeed at Manchester United; he just needs to be given time. I’m also glad that he is thinking long term with a “three-year” rebuild, everyone can see the job is no quick fix. This may prove to be another trophy-less season for the club, but so long as Champions League qualification is assured, Van Gaal will be on the right track.