Judgement day for Man United's 'flops'Comment on this story
London - Sitting alongside Louis van Gaal in an air-conditioned annexe of Miami’s stiflingly humid Sun Life Stadium in the early hours of Monday morning, Ashley Young spoke positively about Manchester United’s pre-season tour of America and life under his new manager.
During what has amounted to a five-game trial, Young is one of those players who has persuaded Van Gaal that he has a future at Old Trafford, operating as a wing-back in the Dutchman’s 3-4-1-2 formation.
Others have not been quite so successful, however.
Guided by the intelligence he received from his Dutch coaches Albert Stuivenberg and Marcel Bout at Carrington while he was away at the World Cup, and convinced by what he has seen here in the US, Van Gaal has wasted no time drawing up a list of the players he wants to keep and those he does not.
It will be presented to United chief executive Ed Woodward later this week, when plans will be put in place to get those who have failed to make the grade out of the door as soon as possible.
Van Gaal is not someone who likes to hang about.
Nani, Anderson, Marouane Fellaini, Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernandez are those most under threat. Wilfried Zaha, whose future at United appeared bleak, is battling to win another chance at the club.
‘I shall make judgments after this tour,’ said Van Gaal when quizzed about his plans as United prepared to face Liverpool in the International Champions Cup final overnight before flying straight home.
‘I have let all the players play and I now know more than before the tour.
‘Now, also, it is a little bit soon to judge, but in football you have to judge. You have to give the player a chance to make a transfer when I see that his prospects to play are not so high. You have to say it in advance, because it’s too late after August 31. I will tell players after the tour but to them, not to you.’
Atletico Madrid are actively pursuing Hernandez and Kagawa, who also continues to be linked with his former club Borussia Dortmund. Van Gaal admits he has too many midfielders capable of operating in the No 10 role that he has given to Juan Mata, and the Japan star appears to be the odd man out.
Meanwhile, any suggestion that Hernandez had impressed his manager by scoring in Saturday night’s 3-1 victory over Real Madrid in front of a record 109 318 fans at Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, was quickly snuffed out by the Dutchman.
‘I think the striker has the biggest chance to score, so that it is not the reason why a player plays,’ said Van Gaal in response to a question about the Mexico striker.
‘We are playing as a team and the team scores. I don’t make individual evaluations because we are playing with a team, not individual players.’
The form of Young and Antonio Valencia in the wing-back roles has convinced Van Gaal that Nani is also surplus to requirements, although offloading a player who only signed a new five-year deal last September may prove a problem with interest from Inter Milan and Juventus waning this summer. Any hope Anderson had of persuading the new manager that the stories about his perpetual lack of fitness were untrue quickly disappeared when he went down with a calf strain two days into the initial strength and conditioning tests at Carrington last month.
The Brazilian, who spent last season on loan at Fiorentina, has hardly been seen since.
Zaha did not get off to the most auspicious of starts either. When the players were offered an ‘optional’ training session on the third day of pre-season, everyone turned up in the hope of impressing the new regime - except him.
However, it is understood that Van Gaal sees potential in converting the winger into a fourth striker if Hernandez is sold and he may give Zaha another chance.
Of all the players whose futures at the club are in jeopardy, Fellaini can perhaps count himself as the most unfortunate.
A much-derided symbol of the David Moyes era, the Belgium midfielder has not even been here on tour to fight for his future. He only reported back from World Cup duty last week but the decision has already been made and he will move to Napoli if the two clubs can strike a deal.
United want to recoup as much as they can of the inflated £27.5million fee paid to Everton for Fellaini a year ago but at this stage, Napoli are only interested in taking him on loan.
Offloading so many players will not concern Van Gaal, who is known to prefer working with a smaller first-team squad, and he still hopes to make more signings before the end of the month.
Centre back remains a priority following the departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, with Dortmund’s Mats Hummels and Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen the main targets. A new left back is required to replace Patrice Evra, despite the costly recruitment of Luke Shaw, and Van Gaal would also like another midfielder.
It has been suggested that Moyes’ indecision over players cost the club dear last summer, but the same certainly cannot be said of his successor as United arrive home on Tuesday. The tour is over, the decisions have been made. The Van Gaal revolution has begun.