There is a great deal of anticipation amongst United fans as we approach this weekend’s home game against Queens Park Rangers. That anticipation goes hand in hand with a renewed optimism as a consequence of all the late activity in the transfer market.
In one sense the international break has been a source of frustration for all; we just can’t wait to get on with the season and see all these new players in a red shirt. Four players, Rojo, Blind, Shaw and Falcao could make their debuts this weekend with another player, Di Maria potentially making a home debut.
In another sense the international break came at the right time in view of United’s extensive injury list. It has given a number of players more time to recover and Rafael, Herrera and Shaw are all reported to now be available for selection. Van Gaal said as we entered the last few days of the transfer window that by its end the group (of players) would look very different and it does. All this means that the return of club football feels like a new beginning, almost as if the season is starting from fresh.
Of course it isn’t and United have got some catching up to do now but the questions that were relevant at the start of the season seem relevant again. Will van Gaal stay with 3 at the back and the same shape? Which player will he play where and how will he fit all the new players in? In some ways however these questions miss the point. Van Gaal has brought the new players in to strengthen the core group and raise the general standard across the squad.
The other question that has been raised on several occasions is whether United’s attitude to young players has changed? Again this is not the point and comments made by Robin van Persie during the international break perhaps highlight this. Van Persie made the statement that he can’t wait to start playing with all the new world class players (in his words) and this illustrates exactly the attitude needed. Here is a world class player who is an integral part of the core group optimistic about playing and learning from the group. That is exactly the culture that van Gaal wants at the club. Van Gaal made it clear that players could leave if they wanted. In doing this he effectively left it to those players who don’t have that attitude to make the decision to leave. Many who weren’t up to the challenge have left; whether they were former youth players or not does not matter, those that have stayed have effectively made a statement that they want to be part of the van Gaal process. Van Gaal’s strategy is shrewd because it is likely to avoid the dressing room discontent that was a feature of last season.
Questions about who will play where also miss the point. Van Gaal stresses the importance of players giving 100% in every training session. He wants a level of intensity in training and anticipates that a high quality core group will help achieve this, whether he can find a team shape that will allow him to fit all his best players into the side at once. Professional footballers play most of their football on the training pitch and it is there that the hard work that wins trophies is done. All these players will train together even if they cannot all fit into the same starting eleven. This point is also important for the development of the next generation of young players as the intensity of the core group in training will set a standard that will challenge emerging youngsters at the club.
Even if results don’t immediately take a turn for the better this weekend, United fans should feel a sense of anticipation and optimism about that.