Manchester United and the Reputation vs Performance Enigma

Football is complicated, intricate sport. There are multiple variables which go into winning a match. Mentality, tactics, physique, and technical ability are all vital to winning at the highest level coupled with a host of other aspects. Perhaps as important, if not more important than these tools is team selection. Managers of top clubs such as Louis Van Gaal are often faced with dilemmas over which player to select. Van Gaal has obtained first hand experience of the problems involving team selection through the likes of Ashley Young and Angel Di Maria. One exhibited wonderful performances (Young) while the other did not perform up to standards (Di Maria), but possesses much greater ability. This is where the debate enters the fray. Should Van Gaal and others select players based on reputation or performance? Aalim Khaderi investigates…

The more liberal, diplomatic of football fans will side with performances, and for good reason. After all, football matches are won and lost on given day. Many times in just this past season, we have witnessed absolute giant killings. Take the Manchester United vs MK Dons match in the Capital One Cup. Just about every football fan, pundit, or player would agree that Manchester United, who selected their reserve players, were still exponentially better than every player wearing an MK Dons shirt. However, reputation did not seem to play any role as players from the Football League Championship crushed United 4-0. Despite having the much better reputation of winning the most Premier League titles, United failed to put up fight against the lower league outfit.

Ashley Young is a living example of the benefit of this opinion. Many believed his Old Trafford days were coming to an end with the introduction of Louis Van Gaal. How wrong could they be? Young has gone on to oust Di Maria from the left midfield position. He has justified his selection over the record signing with a string of vital goals and assists in pivotal matches, notably against Manchester City. While his technical ability pales in comparison to that of the Di Maria’s, the Englishman was still a better choice for selection. Using this evidence, one could come to the affirmative conclusion that performances should guarantee a place over a more reputable player. Young, like many others, has struggled for first team appearances but continued to work hard in training. When given the chance, these players flourished. They should rightfully be awarded with a place in the starting eleven for all of their work, right?

Unfortunately, football is not that simple. Lesser players can outperform their more skilled counterparts. Yes, these players can produce better results. However, there is one hidden negative impact of doing all of this. Di Maria was kept stifled on the bench with Ashley Young in the team. He was not allowed to be provided the time to adjust to his new surroundings. Added to the cultural differences of moving to a new country, Di Maria also had to deal with his house being broken into. These factors negatively affected his game. Talented individuals like him need to be trusted and shown respect for them to really strut their stuff. Di Maria needed a reassuring arm that told him he would be given a chance. By keeping a very talented individual tied down to the bench, a manager would be wasting his talents. Everyone knows what a devastating force of nature Di Maria can be. He was, bar Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s best player before he left the Galacticos. A player of that quality has to be trusted and given enough opportunities.

Van Gaal was correct in playing Young more than Di Maria. Young had earned his stripes by performing so admirably. Still, Di Maria should have been given substantial amount of appearances. Reputation, especially of a world class player, must contain some weightage. By no means am I stating that Young should have played less than Di Maria. Di Maria could have been given a select few, but healthy number of appearances in order for him to recapture his form.

In essence, Van Gaal and other elite managers should use a hybrid of both arguments. Both have their positives and negatives but using them harmoniously would aid in form players as well as players with tempering form but permanent class.

AALIM KHADERI

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