Tag Archives: Louis van Gaal

Abject England humiliated against Iceland

Dejected…England humiliated…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

Who expected that? Iceland, a country with more volcanoes than professional footballers, outplayed England. They beat England. England, that supposed football powerhouse. Reality check? Yes. Wakeup call? Yes. The same old story? Damn right.

There are many reasons for why England continually fail to perform at major tournaments. We have exhausted the individual reasons down the years, from fatigue to youth coaching to senior coaching to the players. So why did England fail at Euro 2016?

Let’s start with the man responsible at the end of the day: Roy Hodgson.

Hodgson is the man who has control over every aspect of the England team. It is his job to ensure his players are ready and prepared for each game. It is his job to ensure he has plans ready for different in-game scenarios. Ultimately, it is his job to select the right players.

Hodgson’s managerial background, in particular in the last 10 years, should have told us that England would at best be mediocre. A man used to fighting relegation battles was England’s manager at a major tournament. Not once, not twice but three times. Let that sink in.

Tactically, Hodgson has proven himself to be inept. We all expected Iceland to sit behind the ball and absorb pressure. They surprised us. Iceland chose to employ a high press, left 2 strikers up front so England’s defenders were unable to attack as much as they would want to. Hodgson seemed flummoxed by this tactical surprise.

Throughout the tournament, England had no tactical plan and that is the fault of the manager. He did not know his best team. He did not know his best formation. Having played so many matches since the last world cup, Hodgson did not know a thing.

He selected players who were unfit, tired and simply not in good enough condition to play for England at a major tournament. Raheem Sterling warmed the bench for Manchester City in the 2nd half of the season. Why was he selected ahead of an in form Andros Townsend? Even worse, he started in the knockout game against Iceland despite being below average in the opening two games of the tournament.

Why was Jack Wilshere selected? Why was Jordan Henderson selected? Both players coming back from injury were quite clearly unfit. Wilshere was deemed bad enough to be subbed after 50 minutes against Slovakia yet was tasked with creating an England revival in the 2nd half against Iceland. Henderson looked off the pace against Slovakia and did not do much to catch the eye.

Why take James Milner? He played 3 minutes. Why take Ross Barkley and John Stones if they are not going to play?

The Slovakia game told us much about Hodgson and his ability (or rather inability) to read his players. Wayne Rooney was England’s star man in the opening 2 games of the tournament. There is a common thought around football that when Rooney is fit and firing, he should be playing every game to keep his momentum and should not be ‘rested’. Inevitably, Hodgson chose to ‘rest’ him and he only played just over 30 minutes.

That is by no means an excuse for Rooney. It was his worst performance during his reign as captain. He let the team down and displayed very little leadership in a time the young players needed leaders.

Worse than the Rooney decision, Hodgson changed the make up of a team that had some momentum from the lucky last minute victory over Wales. The buzzword is momentum. Why break up momentum of a winning team? You can change 1 or 2 players, but you need to have a settled lineup, especially if like England, there was no clear plan before the tournament. When you stumble upon a formula, you must stick to it.

The entire country could see Harry Kane was exhausted. Even at the back end of the season, he was not the same as a few months ago. Yet Hodgson chose to play him in all of the friendly games. Surely in training, Kane could not have been showing the usual levels of energy. So why did Hodgson persist with him? He went on reputation not form.

Dele Alli did not perform in any of the games he played in, in the group stages. So why did Hodgson persist with him? Why did he not try a different player or a different system? The answer lies in the next part of the article, namely the manager failed in planning and preparation.

Planning and preparation is the most important role a manager has. Everything in the team links to the manager’s planning and preparation. Hodgson had no plan. The evidence of this is in the confused nature of the players throughout the tournament. Having a plan helps the mentality of a player and takes the pressure away.

England players should have been aware of different gameplans for different situations. The best coaches at major tournaments can relay information to their players about what will happen in each game and will give them a solution.

Looking at the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup, the Dutch players repeatedly said that Louis van Gaal would inform them about a gameplan for different phases of the game and that gameplan would work. In turn, the players confidence in the manager increased. Van Gaal had a plan involving the water break in the game against Mexico. Did Hodgson have any type of strategy or was he just desperate?

Playing in a tournament has its own pressures. Had Hodgson been able to conjure any type of gameplan, the players would have been able to stay calm under the pressure of potential defeat, instead of having dizzy minds.

Instead, we saw a complete meltdown of the England players. Misplacing 5 yard passes, loose 1st touches, ball rolling under the feet and running as if boots were full of lead. These were the hallmarks of England’s attempted fightback, in the face of tournament elimination.

Even in the group matches, you could not discern how England wanted to play. There was no evidence of patterns of play being worked on in training.

What was the Plan B? I said in my preview of the game that England needed to be radical if things went wrong. They had to do something different. Hodgson ended up bringing Marcus Rashford on which was smart. Of course it would have helped had he brought him on with more than 4 minutes left.

Rashford was England’s best player having only been on the pitch for 4 minutes. Imagine if he had been on for 15 minutes more.  Proactive management? Never for Hodgson. He froze.

Tournament after tournament, England managers do not have a clear gameplan. That translates to the players. Players who already feel the strain of the England shirt, cannot rely on the manager to help them.

Preparing for a job interview or exam, those who have prepared well always feel more confident and under less pressure, than those who have not prepared as well. The same theory applies to England in football.

Alas, it is that pressure which creates so much fear. Fear which inhibits the players and makes them play as though they are playing Sunday League. They were not playing the situation. They were not playing the game. They were playing as if they had the future negative headlines in the mind.

Joe Hart is the most visible example of an England player playing with fear. Of all the players, he has the biggest insecurities and self-doubts. All the bravado and shouting in the tunnel whilst jumping up and down, getting ‘pumped up’ is just that – bravado. Trying to act the leader and show the world he is the man. In reality, he is an overrated goalkeeper and mentally soft.

An example of under-preparation can be seen in Iceland’s opening goal. Everybody knew about Iceland’s long distance throw. We all knew they had tall players. Why then was Wayne Rooney marking a player over 6ft? Why did Kyle Walker forget to track his man? Surely having seen Rory Delap at Stoke for so many years, coaches and players understood that the 2nd ball in the area is always the most important.

Nobody would say Iceland have better players than England. Yet Iceland had a clear gameplan. They knew what to do and when to do it. They pressed high, they attacked, they left 2 strikers forward for most of the game. It was only the last 20 minutes did they decide to defend deep. The players trusted in the gameplan. They emerged as deserving winners.

Whilst Hodgson rightfully shoulders a lot of the blame, it is important to not absolve the players.

Ultimately it is the players out there on the pitch. Some of those players have had stellar club seasons but could not produce under pressure. These players are mentally weak. They are the 3G generation of academy players. They are not street smart in life so why do we expect them to be able to handle the pressures of tournament football.

Nowadays, everything is done for the players. They have agents and assistants and cleaners and drivers and so on. The players nowadays do not actually have to do anything which shapes them as characters. Everything is manufactured, from image to press conferences. The inability to do anything for themselves and think for themselves in life, eventually translates onto the pitch.

Young kids aged 11/12/13 are being offered agents and large sums of money. Clubs are offering £50,000 to families just to enter into negotiations to get a player to join the academy. Can we really expect players growing up in this environment to be street smart?

The manager cannot tell you when to commit a cynical foul, waste time or kick long. It is about decision making under pressure, something only the individual player can do. England players need to toughen up in life and then they can learn to play like men.

The children growing up nowadays, will have a warped idea of football. For them, it will only be what they see on Sky Sports & BT Sports. They will play on 3G pitches, perfect surfaces and have the best equipment. That is not a true love for the game. This, as Jamie Carragher says, will lead to us producing babies not grown up men.

In different countries across Europe and especially South America, children grow up playing football on the street. There are no signs saying “no ball games allowed”. Children play on grass which has more mud than grass. They use jumpers as goalposts. There is seemingly an organic love for the game.

In our country now, children do not go out and play football on the street. They do not spend hours kicking the ball against a wall like Dennis Bergkamp did. Instead they turn on the XBOX and PlayStation and are addicted to video games.

These seem like petty and insignificant at a time when England have been knocked out of a major tournament, but these things all matter for the coming generations.

So where do England go from here?

They need to find the right manager. A manager with the right mix of tactics and psychology. A manager not afraid to make the big decisions. Preferably, a manager who already has tournament experience.

There are no English candidates who fit the bill.

Approaches should be made to Slaven Bilic. Laurent Blanc is another who should be a contender. Jurgen Klinsmann has the right attributes.

They need someone who can change the mindset of England players. By whatever means.

As it stands however, the England job looks very much like a poisoned chalice.



Manchester United are in dire straits

On the brink…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

This is not just a reaction to the shambolic and embarrassing performance by Manchester United in the Europa League first leg against Liverpool at Anfield. For a number of months now, Manchester United have been without direction. Paul Scholes was famously nicknamed ‘Sat-Nav’ by his team mates for his positive passing and ensuring the ball always reached its desired target. It seems Manchester United’s club ‘Sat-Nav’ is currently suffering from a severe malfunction.

Despite a stuttering first season under Louis van Gaal, Manchester United showed enough promise to suggest that this season would be a season of real improvement. Outstanding performances and results against Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool, along with a terrific performance against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge led to many fans and pundits alike thinking ‘next season, Manchester United will be in the mix’.

Van Gaal’s first season involved lots of injuries, formation changes and inconsistency. Yet coming into the back end of the season, it seemed he had found the right formation and a tactically balanced team. The 4-3-3 had a little bit of everything. It had the passing of Michael Carrick, the energy of Ander Herrera and the power of Marouane Fellaini in midfield. It had the creativity of Juan Mata, the industry of Ashley Young and the discipline of Wayne Rooney. It looked like a cohesive unit which understood what it needed to do. It looked like a team capable of playing attractive football.

Of course there were shortfalls. They did not have a world class defender. Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria were expensive flops. Robin van Persie looked like a player whose injuries and age had finally caught up with him. A striker was needed to help Wayne Rooney. The squad needed reinforcing. The team needed a sprinkle of stardust. Yet the fundamentals were there in place.

Fast forward to the start of this season, and United’s squad looked incomplete. There was still no world class defender. The midfield was reinforced and young players such as Memphis and Anthony Martial gave fans something to look forward to. Still, there was no stardust. Di Maria opted for a more relaxed lifestyle at PSG, Falcao and van Persie both moved on. Strangely, Javier Hernandez was also allowed to leave, just days after van Gaal stated he was the 2nd choice striker.

This season has demonstrated that the Louis van Gaal that is currently at Manchester United, is not the Louis van Gaal Manchester United and its fans were expecting. Fans were expecting a winner. A strong manager who would put ‘team philosophy’ over individual interests. A tactically flexible manager who would play attractive football. Instead, this season has shown Louis van Gaal to be rigid, weak and tactically backwards- all culminating in providing Manchester United fans with an extra 90 minutes of sleep.

From the strange decision to move away from the 4-3-3 to accommodate his plethora of midfielders, to playing 2 defensive midfielders, to playing Daley Blind at centre back even after he was exposed as a poor defender, to refusing to release the shackles and show adventure to refusing to drop out of form players because of favouritism. This season has been an Argos catalogue of errors by the Dutchman. Results poor, performances even worse, going into 2016, van Gaal was on the brink.

“Sacked in the morning” were the chants. “Mourinho to Manchester United” were the headlines.

2016 saw the blooding of youth. Notably Marcus Rashford. A bit more adventure. Impressive and unlikely victories in a few games had van Gaal in full boast mode. His players followed. Ander Herrera declared United were fighting on all fronts. Mata’s weekly blog posts talked about the turning point. Then came West Brom. Soon after, Liverpool.

One of the many lessons the players could learn from this season is to talk less and perform better consistently.

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool over the past month has shown how it wants to play football. High energy, quick transitions and a fluidity in the team. Klopp’s identity is filtering through the team. United’s identity on the other hand seems to be floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean somewhere.

Starting with a midfield 2 of Morgan Schneiderlin and Fellaini was tantamount to footballing suicide. The switch to 3 centre backs was a desperate move by a desperate manager going through his last bag of tricks. There was no direction. No way of playing. The players seemed confused. Was the plan to pass the ball through the midfield as they usually do? Or was it to knock it long to Fellaini?

Switching back to experience once players returned was not something the van Gaal of the 1990s would have done. He would have continued with youth all through the team, like his famed Ajax team.

It’s not as though the experienced players are providing any leadership. Juan Mata more often than not goes missing when the going gets tough. Ander Herrera talks off the pitch but rarely dominates a game on the pitch. Daley Blind is not a leader. Morgan Schneiderlin is not a leader. Fellaini is not a leader. Michael Carrick should be a leader, but his current form is seeing him lead himself out of the club in the summer. Wayne Rooney is a leader. Perhaps the only leader Manchester United have. Yet his form is inconsistent and he’s not worth a place in the team on footballing abilities at the moment.

Lightweight, passive and powerless. That is what Manchester United currently look like.

It is not all down to van Gaal and his players. Ed Woodward and the Glazer family must take blame too. His inability to secure transfer targets has seen him become a laughing stock amongst Europe’s top administrators. His pursuit of ‘marquee’ players has been laughable.

There has been a severe underinvestment for a number of years, which has caught up with United. The academy is unable to attract local talent against competition from Manchester City’s modern academy. There is still no Director of Football. Standards have been allowed to drop in all aspects of the club. It was not so visible under Sir Alex Ferguson, whose force of personality acted as a bandage for United’s problems. Since his retirement, standards have fallen dramatically. Slowly and steadily, Ed Woodward and the Glazer family are ruining Manchester United Football Club.

Manchester United is now a business with a football team attached to it. It is all about the money now. There are no football brains on the board. Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton are mere symbolic figures with little power left at the club. It is one of the reasons why they are so strongly in favour of Ryan Giggs becoming the next manager.

Louis van Gaal’s time is up. It’s only a matter of when. He’s a brilliant manager with a glittering career. Sadly though, he is way past his best.

The next manager will firstly need to understand the size of the job. It is no ordinary football management job. The system of transfers will need to be overhauled. The squad will need to be built again. There has to be a clear direction for the club to move in. The next manager has to be a figure which can unite the entire club. Someone who respects and follows the traditions of the club. There was a lot of nonsense printed that Manchester United had lost their identity because they spent big money. Manchester United have always spent big money.

The identity of Manchester United has been based around winning, playing attacking football and trusting youth players. Gary Neville has often described the “fury” and “urgency” of Manchester United teams when chasing a goal. Consistently taking risks, but being sensible and using common sense. It has not always been successful, but more often than not, that mentality drove fear into the opposition.

It is a mentality which is now missing. United are weak. They have no backbone. They have no leadership. They have no clear direction. They risk going down the path of Liverpool in the 1990s and 2000s.

Manchester United need to act swiftly and decisively. Louis van Gaal has no future. It is time for change.