Terrace Talk: What kind of mad genius will Van Gaal prove to be?

Which foreign newcomer to Old Trafford said this during 2015?

“I’m not happy with my first year in England. This season has been very bad for me.”

Di Maria? Falcao? Herrera? Danny Blind? Erm... Louis Van Gaal?

Obviously, you can rule out the last one, because no-one so notoriously over-endowed with self-esteem would say such a thing. But it’s indicative of the way the season has been that, at various dates, you could imagine any of the others as having said it.

In fact, it was Angel Di Maria, 10 days ago. Overall, matters have improved to the point where you’d have said Herrera and Blind would have been being harsh on themselves, had the quote been theirs. But all five of those named have certainly been through the mill during 2014/15, reflecting the undeniable fact that the summer of 2014 did not produce the glorious harvest expected.

Di Maria has said he wants to stay, despite PSG’s attentions as they seek to make good on their 2014 intentions. (You may recall that the player eventually admitted he’d have happily gone there instead, had they managed to find a way around FFP).

Falcao is going, whereas Blind may struggle for a regular place once LVG has spent this summer’s warchest. Herrera, one hopes, is going nowhere, having surely convinced Van Gaal of his worth.

And the manager himself? He was never going anywhere, of course, despite the fact the Old Trafford crowd was on the verge of turning against him during the post-Christmas collapse in form and confidence.

Ed Woodward, to his credit, appears to have been consistently determined on this issue: That LVG would manage United for 2015/16, no matter where the team finished this season. There would be no ‘Moyes wobble’ this time around, and no death by a thousand cuts either. There’s no doubt that Ed was scarred by what happened in 2013/14, and very aware that a second successive appointment failure would threaten his own Glazer empire career.

Van Gaal has been the dominant United personality of the season, in the absence of any one player making a sustained impact on proceedings. Only David De Gea comes close to having had the same kind of effect as, say, Keane did on the way 1998/99 unfolded, or Cantona on 1995/96.

Louis started badly, with a home defeat and a Capital One Cup exit, rallied briefly in the late autumn, and then endured a miserable winter of discontent with another cup exit, before the wholly unexpected Spring Offensive saved the season.

We will always remember the ‘click’, as it came to be known, against Spurs, when yet another slightly desperate-looking team reshuffle suddenly produced the magical combination of speed, passing and movement that had eluded us for several months. And we will not forget the subsequent crushing of then-champions Manchester City, and double-completion over Liverpool, both so sweetly vengeful after the humiliations of 2013/14.

But aside from that? You start to struggle, don’t you? Wryly, one might suggest the only other truly unforgettable experience of the season was the stunning 5-3 defeat at Leicester in September. In some ways, the true fan within can accept that this was a magnificent afternoon of footballing entertainment, studded by Di Maria’s wondergoal, and full of the dramatic excitement football at its most carefree can provide.

But even though United did not lose again until mid-January, something fell off the wagon that day, and thereafter United looked like a team trying to find out what it was.

So now we look ahead, chastened but with some confidence returning, the securing of a European Cup berth being the cure for almost all ills. We still occasionally call Louis ‘Van Loony’ for old time’s sake and, if truth be told, we still don’t feel we know what kind of mad Dutch genius he will prove to be: a Vincent Van Gogh, or an Austin Powers’ Goldmember. I can certainly visualise him with a cigar and a pancake, and I can also easily imagine him slicing someone’s ear off. Though not, perhaps, his own.

See you again in August, when we’ll have the fun of discovering the answer together.


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