The headline would suit The Onion just as well as it would a proper sports website. But no, this isn’t satire. This story is, incredibly, real: Louis Van Gaal has criticized his successor at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho, for playing too defensively. And for being too boring.
Yes, this is the same Louis Van Gaal whose Red Devils, in 2015-16, scored a whopping 49 goals. That was 16 fewer than West Ham – West Ham! – and only one more than 17th-place Sunderland.
“I always played attacking football,” Van Gaal told The Mirror on Monday.
(If you’re not rolling around laughing by now, something is wrong.)
Van Gaal continued: “The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive. … What United produce now is defensive football.”
He went on: “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under.” (United finished in fifth place in his second season, after which he was sacked.)
“We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England.” (It was possession-oriented, low-risk football, far less entertaining than the counterattacking style Mourinho employs now.)
“And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”
Ah, but here’s the thing: it’s not far more boring. You can argue it’s boring, and many did after a 2-1 derby loss to Manchester City. But it’s thrilling compared to what Van Gaal cultivated at Old Trafford. The Dutchman’s teams were at or near the top of the Premier League’s possession percentage charts, but it was always a very conservative, defensive possession. Its purpose was to keep the ball away from opponents, not to actually do anything with the ball.
Mourinho is the opposite. His sides concede possession, and when they win it, rather than keep it, they try to take advantage of opponents and hit them immediately on the break. They don’t always fly up and down the field in transition, but they often try to.
Van Gaal’s United didn’t. His Red Devils were desperately impotent and excruciatingly dull. They were sometimes effective, but rarely entertaining. That’s why this criticism is so odd and, frankly, so hilarious.
“I would rather watch City play than United,” Van Gaal also told The Mirror. So would we, Louis. And we would have two or three years ago as well.
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