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11th Nov 2015

Mark Chapman: Louis Van Gaal deserves credit for his faith in youth

Mark Chapman

So we know Manchester United might not be particularly thrilling at the moment.

There’s an argument to say that the gung-ho football associated with the dominant sides of the nineties has been missing for quite a while.

Even Sir Alex Ferguson’s final title winning side was lit up by individual moments of brilliance from Robin Van Persie rather than constant, swift, attacking football.

Yet scratch beneath the service, or rather beneath the screaming headlines caused by former United players, and Louis van Gaal could well deserve more praise than he is getting.


In amongst the possession and the shots on target stats devoured after the 2-0 win over West Brom, there also followed a debate about how much pace United had out wide.

Almost lost in the forensic deconstruction was the fact that an 18 year old lad from Manchester came on for his debut – Cameron Borthwick-Jackson replacing Marcos Rojo at left back with 15 minutes or so left.

“I put Cameron in the line-up without any fear, and I have to say he did very well.” said Van Gaal afterwards.

During his tenure at Old Trafford, LVG has given debuts to 29 players so he has plenty of fearlessness when it comes to throwing players in.

The negative thinkers amongst you might suggest that that shows equally he has no idea on his best team. But given the club’s history with youth, plus the clamour from fans (as with any club) to see their own youth players coming through to first team level, it has to be seen as a positive.

Jesse Lingard scored his first senior goal for United in Saturday’s victory and yet his competitive debut for United came in Van Gaal’s first competitive game in charge against Swansea on the opening day of last season’s Premier League campaign.

He went off injured in that game and once back to fitness was sent out on loan to Derby. If he hadn’t suffered that setback, the injury not being sent to Derby, then whose to say whether he would have featured more at Old Trafford.


The evidence suggests he would have done because last season Van Gaal also gave starts to Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair and James Wilson, the latter having also featured under the temporary charge of Ryan Giggs in the 2013/14 campaign.

This season, as well as Borthwick-Jackson, Andreas Pereira has been around the first team squad and started in the League Cup with Axel Tuanzebe, a young centre half, being an unused substitute.

Under-19s manager Nicky Butt has already tipped another defender, RoShaun Williams, as being ready to step up, while young striker Ashley Fletcher is scoring for the reserves and in the England Under 20 squad, so his opportunity might come sooner rather than later.

Giving these players an opportunity is all they (and the fans) can ask of a manager. It would be naive and hugely optimistic to think all will make it at United, but it seems Van Gaal will give them every chance to do so.

In addition, there are other young players who have improved under the Dutchman, with Chris Smalling the prime example. And yes I know he is about to turn 26 but that constitutes as young to this 42 year old writer.

Luke Shaw was showing the best form of his Manchester United career before his horrible injury, and in Martial and Memphis he has brought players in, albeit at considerable expense, for the long-term.


Despite constantly demanding short term success and results, more realistic sport fans know that that is rarely possible. Planning, coaching, settling in and improving all take time.

Not one single player I have mentioned is the finished article. Memphis is being hammered left, right and centre for his attitude and his dress sense. He is also being criticised because he has arrived and is not Ronaldo.

Well guess what, Ronaldo wasn’t Ronaldo when he first arrived. He scored 4 times in 29 appearances in his first season at Old Trafford.


Van Gaal is taking the hit for the short term demands of the fans, and in some ways quite rightly so because a lot of the football is turgid.

But in the long term the club, the fans and his successor might be thanking him for the foundations he is putting in place.