Dec. 30, 2016
Louis Van Gaal's signings 15/16: The verdict
£124.10m was spent by Louis Van Gaal in the summer of 2015 as he looked to build on securing Champions League football with a challenge at the title. Unfortunately, that never came about and in this article I take a look at how those signings have fared and whether they now have a future under Mourinho.
Following the departure of Rafael and the question marks over Antonio Valencia in the summer of 2015 Darmian was signed as the answer to United’s right-back problem. Whilst not as adventurous going forward as those two, throughout August and September he appeared more defensively solid putting in a number of good displays as United hovered around the top of the league. A woeful performance against Arsenal saw him replaced at half-time having been completely lost at sea facing Alexis Sanchez. It was an experience that surely knocked his confidence and was the first indication of further troubles. Injury curtailed the following couple of months and when Darmian returned, now operating mainly at left back, he appeared much more vulnerable as fans began to question his place in the starting 11. Antonio Valencia’s emergence as a dependable right-back was a contributing factor in this and the Ecuadorians performances under Mourinho mean his place has only been further cemented. Like many of those in this list Darmian appeared completely out of favour at the beginning of the season. He made it on the bench for just two of the opening nine Premier League fixtures and found selection confined to the Europa League. A shaky performance in Feyenoord did nothing to help his cause but much like Rojo injury saw him restored to the starting XI. Whilst recent defensive efforts alongside Jones and Rojo should be well acknowledged he still looks worryingly exposed on occasions (take Sissoko’s introduction at home to Spurs as an example) and is yet to convince. Despite this, there is enough there to suggest he can be a decent squad member as a utility full back. His versatility could still prove useful given we are currently fighting on four fronts.
When all are fit he should be behind Valencia, Shaw and Blind in the full back pecking order but possibly too early for us to cut the cloth.
Despite his rightly earned off the field popularity, on the pitch Schweinsteiger’s impact cannot be quantified as a success. A solid start indicated he was every bit the elite experienced midfield architect that we needed. However, as United’s form waned and injury hit, the second half of his debut season petered out into a forgettable one. I wrote earlier this year on the much needed revisionism around Schweinsteiger’s first campaign and the use he could still be to United. Jose Mourinho clearly disagreed and froze him out in what seemed an act of stamping his authority. Progress has been made since then and I was as delighted as all those in Old Trafford to see him return to the field against West Ham. Some will question why he got such an ovation, it’s because we have respect for both his attitude and ability. Schweinsteiger is yet to feature since but has made a couple of Premier League match day squads and with Schneiderlin likely to leave may well just see out the season as Man United player.
My message to Mourinho remains the same as it did in September, he still has something to offer in both the dressing room and on the pitch- utilise this.
The Schneiderlin signing made perfect sense. United’s midfield lacked bite or balance in 14/15 and based on his performances for Southampton that campaign, the Frenchman could evidently bring both. The question is now being asked whether Schneiderlin has been mismanaged or just isn’t up to United standard, particularly when in possession. The answer possibly lies somewhere in between but there’s absolutely no doubt he was ill used by Van Gaal and given to little chance to impress under Mourinho. He featured 38 times (32 being starts) under the “Iron Tulip” last season and looked a steady if not remarkably presence in United’s midfield. However, he was often suddenly dropped by Van Gaal for key fixtures including the 3-0 capitulation to Arsenal and sat out the consecutive losses to Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke. His longest run of 8 starting appearances brought about 6 wins and included a performance in March’s win at the Etihad that was a master class in containment. This season many of us thought Schneiderlin would be employed in a Nemanja Matic esque role and well suited to Mourinho’s midfield ambitions but it hasn’t transpired. Bafflingly, Mauroune Fellaini was preferred early on and since then Schweinsteiger’s return and the successful Carrick, Herrera, Pogba axis has pushed Schneiderlin right down the pecking order. His performances for Southampton show he clearly has the quality to succeed at Premier League level and if a move to Everton or West Brom goes ahead then the game time he gets will probably see a return to his best form. Given a consistent run of selection he could well have produced this for us, but Mourinho’s judgement seems to have scuppered that.
The general consensus is that we’d of like to have seen more of and from Schniederlin but he should be allowed to leave If he doesn’t feature in Mourinho’s plans.
Racking up 20 goals and 16 assists in his debut season, the 19 year old Frenchman went above and beyond in his pursuit to live up to expectations. Our over reliance on him perhaps shows just how much we struggled at times last year but he was a breath of fresh air in the stale atmosphere of “Van Gaal-ball”. After a sensational start Martial continued to be one of our brightest performers whether up top or on the wing. Whilst not quite the finished article, his directness and appetite to run at defenders was something that instantly won us united fans over. Goals against West Ham and Everton en route to the FA Cup triumph also showed his ability to make the difference when it mattered. The arrival of Marcus Rashford and to a lesser extent Jesse Lingard definitely eased the burden on his shoulders towards the end of the 15/16 campaign. However, now that they’ve established themselves they both represent a direct competition for places with Martial under Mourinho. Zlatan’s arrival has meant the striker’s spot is out of contention and a poor start to the year has seen Martial fighting for his position on the left flank. His relaxed, almost cold demeanour has lead to some raising question marks over his effort but any united fans on his case need a reminder that he’s only just turned 21. Martial had an incredibly taxing debut campaign for United, which was followed by the European championships, a minimal pre-season and issues with his personal life. Despite this being a fair explanation for his slow start it won't grant him much leeway if performances don't improve in 2017. He appears to be a player who thrives on confidence and the recent league cup brace against West Ham appeared to inspire an upturn in form but he is once again finding himself in and out of the starting XI . Perhaps Mourinho needs to trust the Frenchman with a run of games, as when he's in form he would surely make up our most potent front 3 alongside Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan.
Martial's fee could well rise to £61.6m, if the 2015 FIFA Golden Boy winner can recapture the form of his debut campaign then he'll be well on his way to justifying that.
Calling Memphis a complete flop might be jumping the gun a little but there’s no denying he’s failed to live up to the promise. It’s been a frustratingly underwhelming experience for player and fans alike. As with others on this list, the signing seemed a sensible one in the summer of 2015. Depay had emerged in the Holland national team under Van Gaal’s guidance and was one of the hottest prospects in Europe having scored 28 goals in 40 appearances for PSV the previous season,. Mightily impressive stats for a winger and whilst it can always be difficult to judge a players true quality on Eredivisie numbers alone (see Alfonso Alves or Vincent Jansen) Depay looked the real deal. The signs were positive after he tore Club Brugge apart in Champions League qualification and scored two in the process. That was sadly the start of a reoccurring theme for Memphis who often looked at his best against weaker opponents, with his 5 other goals that season being netted against Midtjylland (x2), Sunderland, Watford and PSV. One solitary Premier League assists showed he was also failing to create much, though many were guilty of that under Van Gaal. Memphis was signed to add spark, creativity and goals to our left flank but he was soon delivering on none of those fronts and his effort seemed to increasingly not match his ego. Sloppy errors that directly lead to goals away at Stoke and Chelsea didn’t help the Dutchman’s cause. His flashy, sometimes questionable, image should not detract from the fact Memphis is dedicated professional. The man is built like a tank, one look at his social media accounts show how committed he is to maintaining his explosive speed and strength. Moreover he has always said the right things when facing questions on his position in the side. Unfortunately, the performances with the ball weren't up to standard and last season he saw himself ousted by the likes of Martial, Rashford and Lingard all who had much more of a tangible impact. Naturally, that has made it difficult for Memphis to get much game time whatsoever this season (something Mourinho has expressed regret at) even in the cup competitions. If our wide men remain injury free it’s difficult to see this changing and he may well be on the move in January. If recent rumours suggesting he asked to leave two months ago are true this doesn't reflect well on his ambitions to fight for his place.
Failed to take his chance but disregarding him after one season seems short sighted, sadly it may now be too late to find out if he was ever worth the hype.