There was a time, not too long ago, when Louis van Gaal could barely complete a sentence without mentioning his philosophy, a belief system that he never fully explained but which he presented as a master plan and which, to many Manchester United supporters, served as shorthand for pointless passing and sterile domination.
In times of strife, when his reign appeared to be nearing a premature and unhappy ending, the Dutchman went suddenly silent on the subject of a philosophy that seemed a cause of United’s decline.
And then, following Sunday's unexpectedly entertaining and hugely heartening victory over Arsenal, Van Gaal returned to a familiar subject.
Marcus Rashford had marked his league bow with a decisive double. Van Gaal had granted youngsters three debuts, taking his total to five in a week and eight in a season.
“That is a very important aspect of my philosophy,” he said. “It is the culture of Manchester United and that is why they take me as manager.”
For much of an increasingly gruesome tenure, Van Gaal appeared an aberration, rather than one who maintained United’s truest traditions. Yet even as his brand of football has grown less adventurous over the years, a faith in the next generation has been a constant.
His 1995 Ajax Uefa Champions League-winning team featured three teenagers. One, Patrick Kluivert, scored the only goal in the final, the sort of impact that makes Rashford’s startling start to his career pale into insignificance in comparison.
But, once again, Van Gaal is entitled to be self-satisfied. Rashford’s surge to prominence required both luck and judgment, with injuries to five other forwards in swift succession propelling him into the spotlight, but he stopped Guillermo Varela from leaving Old Trafford and saw the rightback play a part in both of the striker’s goals against Arsenal.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson missed the Arsenal game through injury but the 19-year-old defender looks a real prospect.
Van Gaal reasoned that because he does not want a “wide selection”, or a deep squad, he creates opportunities for emerging talent. The alternative view is that he left United short-staffed in key positions and, in the final reckoning, that imbalance could prove costly.
Yet, perhaps intentionally, he contrived to illustrate the contrast between his thinking and that of an ally turned enemy.
Jose Mourinho was Van Gaal’s assistant at Barcelona and is his putative successor at Old Trafford. Various arguments have been advanced as to why the Portuguese is unsuitable for United and those who tried to invoke his attacks on officials and fellow managers, his seeming paranoia or his ability to pollute the footballing discourse have clearly forgotten the extremes of Alex Ferguson’s behaviour.
But Ferguson provided a path to the first team for United’s most promising youngsters.
The theory is that Ryan Giggs, Class of ’92 graduate, Van Gaal’s assistant and potential replacement, would likewise. Van Gaal’s judgments may have been quixotic, with James Wilson and Adnan Januzaj afforded fewer chances than many hoped and others parachuted into the team from the depths of the youth system, but, like Ferguson, he believes in the energising powers of eager newcomers.
And Mourinho is the arch-pragmatist who appears ever aware that a rookie is likelier to make a mistake. He said in 2014 that he should blame himself if the Chelsea trio of Lewis Baker, Izzy Brown and Dominic Solanke did not become England internationals in the next few years. None ever started a game for him, and if they were too young to be ready before he was sacked, it is pertinent that Ruben Loftus-Cheek lingered on the fringes of his squad. Kenedy and Bertrand Traore were barely trusted, either.
Chelsea, who are serial Youth Cup winners, may have a better group of teenagers than United but the chances are that Rashford would have remained unknown under Mourinho’s management.
Perhaps, in his self-absorption, Van Gaal was not thinking of the wider context. Perhaps he was not making a veiled reference to Mourinho at all.
Yet, deliberately or otherwise, he highlighted how United’s next managerial decision will be a question of philosophy.
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