It is fabled that an early Spanish conquistador Captain Hernán Cortés upon landing his expedition for colony at Veracruz, ordered his men to burn their ships. The insanity of the order gave his men much pause no doubt, but the story goes that they all drowned themselves in rum and set the ships ablaze. This story is peddled in different connotations and with different characters even at most modern leadership training retreats. In the story’s spine lies a hard truth that every leader has to face – safety nets encourage retreat.
The burn the ships attitude beckons to leaders to reaffirm their primal instincts of decisive decision making, chart a course, take a stand then stick with it no matter what, if they really believe their vision of the future. Stand firm, stand alone if you have to, because others who are shortsighted, uncommitted, and opposed to your plan wither away with the slightest hint of hardship.
This is the reason why it is futile to try to understand the mad mind of Louis van Gaal. At United, the mad king has burned all the ships as it relates to his striker corps. LVG has always spoken glowingly about his captain Wayne Rooney but mostly in terms of his dedication and multi-functionality. It has not been expressly evident what the Dutch trainer-coach thinks about the English record goals scorer’s strike rate.
He was quick the earmark both Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao as United’s main strikers ahead of the Englishman in his maiden season with the red devils. After his nightmarish experience at the hand of Leicester City at the King Power stadium, a game that might have very well transformed Van Gaal for good and pushed him into the philosophy of control at all cost. United’s 5-2 loss after opening a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 goal lead damaged Van Gaal permanently, and ended any designs of a cavalier United.
That infamous loss at the King Power stadium was the first time he had dropped Rooney into the midfield, to take up a deeper role, after he had started and evaluated Rooney in 4 games prior to that as a striker. "Rooney can play in more positions, he is a multi-functional player and I have tried him in a striker's position," the Dutchman said. "He has played well, but not spectacular. Falcao is a striker and I think he can do it better." At the end of a very uneven first season Van Gaal sounded out with even more clarity on his assessment of his striking options, "At this moment, we don't have a striker who scores 20 goals." So it is quite astonishing that after a brief 2 month layover, the United manager seemed to place all his eggs in the Wayne Rooney basket.
The vanquished - Manchester United forwards that found themselves on Van Gaal's transfer block.
Giving fair consideration to the fact that Van Gaal’s words to the press are usually highly unreliable, as his changes his mind with frightful frequency, or it could just be that he is the most deliberate mickey taker. He tossed out lifetime manc Danny Welbeck, publicly stating he didn’t think the lad had the chops to cut it at United and at any rate he had the pacey Wilson ready to take Welbeck’s spot in the squad. RVP was his highest league scorer last campaign with 10 goals despite limited appearances. He was unceremoniously vanquished to Fernabache, and the Falcao experiment was terminated as well.
LVG at some point in the window said he was satisfied with his attacking options of Rooney, Hernandez, Wilson, and Januzaj. Hernandez was going to be given a chance, and he fancied Januzaj as the best player to fit the supporting striker role behind Wayne Rooney. He jettisoned Chicharito and bought the largely untested Martial, loaned out Januzaj, and is currently looking to offload Wilson.
Van Gaal has eviscerated his striker unit, and stripped it down to a core of the veteran United goals record chaser Rooney, and the exciting but immature Martial. His brand of tiki-taka has no real need of a traditional forward, and he has set out to prove it by hauling the rest of his forwards unto the transfer chop block. All the ships have been burnt. This is LVG’s unshakeable belief in his philosophy and process in motion. But do all his soldiers believe in his blueprint? Stories have been printed of player ambassadors dispatched to the United gaffer with one core message – free us, let us play to our potential, your rigidity is stifling.
Many nostalgic observers and red devil supporters that have been baptized by United’s buccaneering spirit of old refuse to accept the new order of things, and make no mistake, LVG’s ultra possession scheme brings ultimate order, but at the price of directness, entertainment, and over the last 10 games – goals. It a mutiny that might never get legs, Van Gaal has quickly disposed of those who do not conform, see Angel di Maria and Nani, and brought in younger players with star potential like Memphis and Martial, who will not find his fatherly, even if overly strict, approach off putting.
Time has come for Louis Van Gaal to deliver on his United philosophy.
The United boss has rolled the dice, many call it stubbornness, he will see it as righteous belief in his own self-professed genius, and that can be both terrible and great for the club. Whatever the case, the board knew what they were getting when they sought his services. They could have easily brought in a football director to protect the long-term interests of the club and most importantly protect the clubs football philosophy.
That philosophy of attack-attack-attack was tossed into oblivion when they got LVG. So now they must let the master do his work, the way he knows how, without reservation or an escape chute. He has spent heavily, even if balanced with a monumental exodus of players, and this team is now molded in his image. I am backing United to bounce back after a couple of unisnpired displays against Newcastle and Swansea. Van Gaal has turned Old Trafford into a fortress again, and he should have enough at his disposal to heap more misery upon Brendan Rodgers tepid Liverpool side. It is very early in the ‘process’, however, if he manages to lose to an equally barren Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday. Expect everybody to hit the panic button.