13 Reasons Why Manchester United Will Be Back in the Champions League in 2015
Manchester United won't feature in any European competition this season for the first time since the 1989-90 campaign. Supporters have David Moyes, Ed Woodward and the Glazers to thank for this.
Sadly for them, the club only managed to rid themselves of one of the three villains ahead of the 2014-15 season, and fans are upset about the lack of investment in their squad in comparison to the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.
Paul Scholes expressed his concern for the future of United this week, as reported in The Guardian, claiming they could go into the wilderness like Liverpool did in the 1990s and beyond.
However, there are still some reasons to be cheerful for United fans, as they may well qualify for Europe's elite competition next season and begin to see their club rebuild. What reasons are there for believing this can happen, though?
Van Gaal Has Been There and Done It Before
Louis van Gaal is a world-class manager, and you would expect him to have a much better chance of bringing success to United than his predecessor, David Moyes.
He's managed clubs in Spain, Germany and the Netherlands and won the league title in each. He's won the European Cup, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup, among a whole host of domestic trophies. He has the sort of pedigree you would expect from the manager of Manchester United.
However, to be more specific, it would be worthwhile looking at Van Gaal's time in charge of AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands.
In the two seasons before he got the job, AZ were in the UEFA Cup, having endured 22 years without any European competition. In Van Gaal's first season at the club, he guided AZ to finishing in one of the Champions League qualifying positions.
If he's done it before at a smaller club, then you would fancy him to be able to replicate this success at United.
Woodward Has Got to Get It Right This Year
Ed Woodward was regarded as a laughing stock by many Manchester United supporters last summer after failing to bring in any players beside Marouane Fellaini. The club ended up allowing the midfielder's release clause to expire a month before buying him for £4 million more than they could have done a few weeks earlier.
After wrapping up early deals for Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, United have been linked to players from all over Europe this summer but, as yet, have only signed Marcos Rojo. When you consider that six players have left the club this summer, United's squad is arguably worse than it was last season.
Woodward might have been able to explain away last summer's disastrous performance with inexperience, but surely his job has to be on the line if he can't lure top-quality players for a second year running.
For that reason, you would imagine Woodward will be doing everything he can to sign some players capable of getting United in to the Champions League next season, giving United fans some hope for the final week of the transfer window.
Glazers Can't Afford Another Year Without Champions League Revenue
A report by BBC Sport claimed that United stand to lose £40-50 million this year thanks to the absence of Champions League football.
The Glazer family bought the club to make money and cannot afford to be out of the Champions League for too long. Not simply for the money for competing and television revenue but also for the sponsors that being one of the best clubs in the world attracts.
You would therefore presume that they would stump up the cash to buy the players needed to put the squad in contention for finishing in the top four again.
Starting to Rebuild the Midfield
The midfield has been an area of weakness for United for some time. Owen Hargreaves was the last top-class midfielder the club bought—and that was in the summer of 2007.
However, United fans will have hope that Ander Herrera can prove to be one of the missing pieces of the jigsaw, in getting the ball forward to the attacking players and scoring the odd goal or two himself.
He is still only 25 and hasn't proven himself as a top-class player yet, but he seems to be allowing the club to move in the right direction in this area of the field. But United still need more midfielders if they are serious about securing Champions League football for next season.
Van Persie Can Be at His Best Again
Despite only starting 18 league games last season, Robin van Persie still managed to rack up an impressive 12 goals and three assists, according to WhoScored.com.
There were rumours that Van Persie didn't have much respect for Moyes and wasn't a happy player last season.
Rio Ferdinand spoke about the change in dynamics when Moyes got the job, as reported by ESPN.
When Sir Alex Ferguson left, [Van Persie] went from being the star man, our go-to guy, the top scorer, to being almost like a sideshow. I think that the dynamics changed. The manager, David Moyes, was talking up Wayne Rooney and forwards need to be loved. And I don't think he felt that love last season.
In contrast, Van Persie and Van Gaal enjoy a great relationship, which will hopefully bring out the kind of form that helped United win the record-breaking 20th title a year ago.
The Dutchman fired United to top spot then, so surely bagging the crucial goals for a top-four finish shouldn't be beyond him.
Mata in His Proper Position
When Juan Mata signed for Manchester United a few months ago, for a club-record transfer fee, there was hope that he could turn around what was becoming a dreadful season for the then-champions.
While he did manage an impressive six goals and four assists in just 14 starts, per WhoScored.com, he was played out of position and therefore unable to have the sort of impact he is capable of having.
Earlier this month, Mata reflected on what he believed his best position to be, and was happy that Van Gaal had been using him there, as reported in The Daily Mail.
If I play behind the two strikers I feel comfortable. I have played on the left or right but my best season was when I played in that position under Rafa Benitez for Chelsea. I will try my best, during the season hopefully we can play good football and I can do assists and score goals because that is what I have to do.
Mata was Chelsea's best player two seasons running, so there is the belief that the Spaniard can do great things for United in their bid to get back in to the top four now he is being used properly by Van Gaal.
United's New #11
Adnan Januzaj was one of the few highlights for what was an otherwise dreadful season for United. His transition from the youth team to the first team was seamless, with him scoring twice on his full debut to earn United a 2-1 win over Sunderland.
Having been played regularly early on in the season, his appearances became few and far between in the second half of the season for reasons unknown.
However, with a year of Premier League football now under his belt, United fans will be looking to see how much of a difference he can make for the team this season, now wearing Ryan Giggs' legendary number 11 shirt.
Giving Youth a Chance
Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson believed in giving young players the chance to prove themselves. This was a strategy that lost its way under Moyes but resurfaced when Giggs took temporary control.
He gave James Wilson and Tom Lawrence their debuts, and the former responded by scoring two goals.
In an interview with Gary Neville in The Telegraph this week, it seems clear that Van Gaal's aim is to let the young players at the club have a go.
When you see a young player has talent, and he fits in the profile of the position, then he can do the job. Maybe my eye is very good, that I can see if they can do it. But I don’t believe only in experienced players, because you have to fit in the profile of the system. I’m here not because I’m a very nice person. I’m here because of my philosophy. I want my players to perform that philosophy. And I know which players are fitting in my philosophy. And when it is a young boy, it’s good.
When you are 26 or 27 you are more than when you are 21. But when you don’t give them any chance then nobody can come in the team. When you see my curriculum, you see I played with Xavi, Iniesta, Motta—he is now at PSG—Puyol: I gave them all their debuts. Also in Bayern Munchen: Kroos, Muller, Alaba, Badstuber, and they’re playing still. Not a bad eye, I think?
While it would be unfair to say that there are any players at United who aren't hungry for success, it stands to reason that the younger players will want it more. With the exception of the players who joined United in 2014, all of the first-team squad already have at least one league title winners' medal at home.
The younger players, such as Tyler Blackett, the Keane brothers, Jesse Lingard, Wilson and Lawrence, are all desperate to experience that sort of glory and may be able to give more to the cause than some of the older players.
Rooney Ready to Lead by Example
Wayne Rooney is one of the most effective players in the league every season, regardless of whether fans consider him to be having a good season.
According to WhoScored.com, Rooney scored 17 goals and assisted 10 in 27 starts last season. The year before, it was 12 goals and 10 assists in 22 starts. The year before that, 27 goals and 4 assists in 32 starts and so on.
However, there has been an element of uncertainly about his future for the past few years. He first declared his desire to leave in 2010, before Ferguson confirmed last summer that the player wanted a transfer again.
Having signed a new contract and, more recently, been named captain, Rooney's future should now be tied to the club. Without those distractions and with a renewed desire to lead the club to success, maybe now United fans will see the striker step it up a gear in a bid to reclaim European football.
Moyes' tactics were a flop last season. The most ludicrous game of them all was arguably United's 2-2 home draw against Fulham. For 90 minutes, United pinged crosses in to the box and none of them led to a goal. The opposition manager, Rene Meulensteen, described the tactics as "straightforward," while Fulham defender Dan Burn claimed he hadn't defended that many crosses since playing in the Conference.
Van Gaal has brought in a different way of playing, though, and he has spent all of pre-season teaching this approach to the team.
While the season started with a disappointing defeat against Swansea, you have to believe there is the potential for United to do a lot of damage when they become familiar with the new system.
Liverpool Are Weaker
Liverpool were a surprise threat for the title last season and came within a few games of winning the league for the first time in almost 25 years.
Sadly for them, Steven Gerrard miscontrolled a pass and slipped against Chelsea, leading to Liverpool's first defeat for several months. The rest, as they say, is history.
However, a constant throughout the season was Luis Suarez, who was named PFA and FWA Player of the Year, following his incredible 31 league goals. If Liverpool had won the league, there could be no doubt who had been the driving force behind their success.
Suarez has left the club now, finally, after requesting to join Arsenal the summer before, and Liverpool have been looking for his replacement. Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli both know where the goal is, but neither of them are anywhere near as prolific as Suarez.
Balotelli, for example, has been playing top-flight football for seven seasons in England and Italy but has only featured in the Top 10 scorers in the league he's playing in on one occasion, when he was the 10th-highest scorer in the Premier League in 2012.
Not only have Liverpool lost their best player, but they've also gained at least six more games to their calendar against top-quality opposition. Last season they weren't in the Champions League or Europa League, so they were much fresher for their league campaign.
With Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal all strengthening their squads since last season, United will be eyeing up Liverpool's spot in the top four.
Improved Coaching Staff
Van Gaal has cleared out the backroom staff that Moyes brought to the club, and as a result, the squad is being trained by a much higher calibre of staff.
Steve Round played nine professional games of football for Derby before his career was cut short by injury. Steve McClaren appointed him as a coach at Middlesbrough and, when given the job, McClaren gave him a place on the England coaching staff. He then went to Newcastle before joining Moyes at Preston and moving with him to Everton.
Jimmy Lumsden managed Bristol City for two years before joining Moyes at Preston and moving with him to Everton.
Neither coach had experience of working with a group of players who were anywhere near as talented as the players at United.
In contrast, the coaches Van Gaal has brought with him to United have had a very different experience in their careers to date. Marcel Bout was at AZ with Van Gaal when they won the league and then moved with him to Bayern Munich. There, they won the league, two domestic trophies and reached the final of the Champions League.
Frans Hoek was Johan Cruyff's goalkeeping coach at Ajax and remained at the club when Van Gaal was appointed. Edwin van der Sar was one of the first goalkeepers who Hoek could boast about helping. He then went with Van Gaal to Barcelona and Victor Valdes was promoted during this time. He joined Van Gaal at Bayern Munich and then the Netherlands.
With coaches who have worked with some of the best players in the world before coming to United, there is the assumption that they can get a lot more out of this squad than Moyes and his coaches did.
Van Gaal's Legacy
Van Gaal has been a success at every club he's managed, and he will be imagining it will be no different at United.
However, he's nearing the end of his career and is already on borrowed time with his wife, as reported by Richard Jolly for ESPN.
Now I am the manager at the end of my career because I shall do this. I think it is the end of my career. I have said to my wife already nine years ago that I [would] quit at 55. Now I am 63. I have to keep my wife quiet and that's not so easy.
Van Gaal has no time to waste and will be aiming to get United back in the Champions League as soon as possible. Judging by the impression he has given during the short time he's been at the club, he comes across as a man who usually gets his way, so you wouldn't want to bet against him.