“I like this atmosphere. I could see myself coaching here one day.”
When Pep Guardiola said that to Manel Estiarte, he was not talking about Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal, but indeed Manchester United. The year was 2011, Manchester United were on their way to achieve their 19th league title, and Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge. There was a different air about the club.
Fast forward five years to 2016 and Manchester United are no longer the dominant force they were. The appointment of David Moyes after Ferguson’s retirement left much to be desired and, in fairness, that one season set the tone for what was to come next. It can be argued that Moyes wasn’t given enough time; it could even be argued that the spending of Manchester City and Chelsea left United behind. Regardless, that season alone set Manchester United back in a big way.
Since joining Manchester United, Louis van Gaal has at least turned United back in to a team challenging for a top four position. In his first season he comfortably guided United to fourth place, six points ahead of fifth place Tottenham, and back in to the Champions League.
However, despite this improvement, his team didn’t really do that much better than Moyes’ did the year before. On their final tally of 70 points, Manchester United would have finished sixth in the season Moyes was at the club and, more embarrassingly, David Moyes’ Manchester United scored more goals than Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United.
So far this season, United’s profligacy in front of goal has continued. After their 1-0 win at Anfield against Liverpool, Manchester United have only scored 28 goals in 22 games. Granted, their defensive record allows them to get away with this, but to put it in to context of how poor that is, it is only one more goal scored than 19th-placed Sunderland. For Manchester United, it isn’t good enough, and it is a million miles away from the attacking threat of the team Ferguson had made so dominant in years gone by.
With Pep Guardiola’s promised arrival in to the Premier League and English football next season, Manchester United must do all they can to ensure he joins them. It may be deemed harsh on van Gaal if they do achieve a top four finish again, but then it has to be asked when did simply a top four finish become good enough for United?
The most likely place for Guardiola to end up is at Manchester City due to the roles of former Barcelona executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain at the club, but United should not feel that is the be-all and end-all. Guardiola is known to be an admirer of ‘legendary’ clubs and realistically the history behind Manchester United is far greater than that of Manchester City. Ultimately, he has to decide whether he could revive United back in to championship contenders or create a new history with their neighbours.
City would undoubtedly give Guardiola more money to spend than United, but he is a coach who is less interested in the money and more interested in what he can make his teams do. He fits the mould for United; at Barcelona, for example, he sold several big players and trusted players that came through the youth set-up. In doing so, he turned them into the best team in the world.
Like van Gaal, Guardiola gets his teams to play possession-based football. However, van Gaal plays how you’d expect Tony Pulis to get his teams to play if they could keep the ball, whereas Guardiola allows his team freedom to attack. It is exciting football, and it is that exciting football that used to be so synonymous with Manchester United that the Catalan could bring back.
United would give Guardiola a challenge, but it would be an exciting challenge and one that he would relish. The foundations are already there for a great team. With Real Madrid’s transfer embargo, it would seem De Gea will remain with United. Players like Memphis and Anthony Martial could be a dream to watch with Guardiola’s style, and then there’s Wayne Rooney.
Rooney has become the Coldplay of football, if you will. His name alone, like Coldplay, will sell seats in stadiums but, like Coldplay, it is far easier to find people who dislike him and don’t rate him. Under van Gaal, Rooney has been misused numerous times, as a midfielder, a wide player and so on. Guardiola is the type of coach who could make Rooney re-emerge and reinvigorate him back in to the attacking role in which he performs so well.
It would also be exciting to see the work which Guardiola could do with the young players at United; notably players like Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard and James Wilson. He has a good record with youth players and could help all of the best youngsters at Old Trafford reach their potential and turn Manchester United into one of the world’s best teams on a long-term basis.
The Manchester United fans want attacking football and they want to see their team winning trophies again. Under van Gaal’s style of play, it’s hard to see it happen. To return to greatness, Manchester United need to do all they can to get the greatest, Pep Guardiola; it’s a no-brainer.