Louis van Gaal Shows No Signs of Changing Approach in Spite of Fans' Reaction

Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2016

Van Gaal on the Old Trafford bench.
Van Gaal on the Old Trafford bench.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

When Louis van Gaal spoke to the media ahead of Manchester United's trip to Liverpool this weekend, he was asked about the fans' response to the 3-3 draw with Newcastle United on Tuesday night.

When asked whether he had noticed a difference in fans' response to that game as compared with some of his side's less exciting wins, he replied, per the club's website:

I think I was more disappointed than the fans, I noticed that. I noticed that on the street and I had a lot of support on the street, but then I say to them that we lost two points and two points is very important in this period because we have to win points. Of course, after the result we have won one point on Tottenham Hotspur, for example, [meaning gained one point of ground on Spurs in the league table] but that is not enough.

On one hand, it is both heartening and reasonable for Van Gaal to say he cannot be happy with a draw against Newcastle. On the other hand, it is yet more evidence that fan discontent with his style of play will continue to be ignored, or misunderstood, by United's manager.

In an interesting parallel, Liverpool were the forthcoming opponents when Van Gaal, asked about fans' reaction to his side back in September, responded "the fans are shouting every week 'Louis van Gaal's army.'"

It was clear that the Dutchman had taken these chants as an endorsement of his approach. However, this was another misunderstanding. There were fans inside Old Trafford prepared to chant David Moyes' name as long as he was the United manager, and the same is true here. Frankly, chanting simply does not equal endorsement.

Perhaps because of Van Gaal's very public misreading of the intention of those chants, and no doubt because of the dramatic waning in his popularity, those chants have become relatively rare, and relatively quiet inside Old Trafford.

The fans have overtly voiced their discontent plenty, too, crying "attack attack attack!" and using the tune of "Sloop John B" to sing "We're Man United we want to attack." There have been boos, such as the angry response to Anthony Martial's substitution against CSKA Moscow at home.

Then there was the most clear cut, most Mancunian of all possible responses against Sheffield United when the crowd resorted to out-and-out sarcasm. When Memphis Depay came off the bench, then shortly afterwards cut inside and had a shot at goal, almost the entire stadium stood to applaud him.

As well as a display of gallows humour, it was a cri de coeur from the United faithful. "Please, Mr Van Gaal," they may as well have said, "please make our side entertaining to watch again."

As yet, very little appears to have changed as a result of these pleas.

The positive response Van Gaal has received "on the street" to the Newcastle draw is further evidence of the desire for more enjoyable football. Of course, not all fans are the same, and plenty of people would rather see their side win playing functional football than lose or draw taking a more free-wheeling approach, but 3-3 draws are often a lot more fun than a narrow 1-0 win.

Ironically, a trip to Anfield is probably a game in which many fans who would otherwise proclaim that they would rather see a 4-3 defeat than a dull 1-0 win might make an exception. If Van Gaal can engineer a cautious, narrow victory, there will be few complaints on this occasion.

He should not, however, mistake that as an endorsement for his approach, of which the majority have very clearly grown tired. Otherwise, sarcastic cheers and frustrated boos will continue to be heard louder than the strains of "Louis van Gaal's army."