IT’S time to give Louis van Gaal a bit of credit.
Like almost everyone else, we’ve been quick to criticise the Manchester United boss during what’s been a largely forgettable stint in charge.
Not only have results been poor, his side have also been responsible for some of the dullest and most uninspiring football the club have produced in decades.
Van Gaal hasn’t been helped by a crippling injury list but as a result he’s given a number of youngsters their chance, with many impressing so much that the current crop are being talked about as the most exciting group to come through at Old Trafford since the legendary ‘Class of 92’, featuring the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers.
United midfielder Michael Carrick said: “You know the great thing with young lads is that you don’t really know what you’ve got until you put them in there and give them a chance.
“Over recent weeks, that’s probably been the massive bonus for us – probably over the whole season really – the young lads coming in.
“It’s a breath of fresh air, and something that you take for granted sometimes in many ways, so to see what it means to the young lads and how they responded, is incredible really.”
Of course it’s very early days and whether the ‘Class of 16’ can reach anywhere near the dizzy heights their predecessors did remains to be seen.
For all his faults, Van Gaal has a long history of giving young players an opportunity and, although some would say the club’s injury crisis left him with little choice, it still takes a brave man to put so much faith in a bunch of kids, rather than take perhaps the easier option and look for short-term solutions and loans in the transfer window.
Would Jose Mourinho – the hot favourite to replace Van Gaal – have been bold enough to have given the youngsters a chance?
His track record suggests not and you wonder if Mourinho had been in charge, would we have ever seen the likes of Marcus Rashford, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and even Jesse Lingard develop as they have this season?
Players given their United debuts under Van Gaal
James Weir: Midfielder, age 20. Born: Preston. Debut: v Arsenal (Prem Lg) Feb 28. Apps: 1.
Tim Fosu-Mensah Defender, 18. Born: Amsterdam. Debut: v Arsenal (Prem Lg) Feb 28. Apps: 1.
Marcus Rashford: Striker, 18. Born: Manchester. Debut: v FC Midtjylland (Europa Lg) Feb 25. Apps: 2. Goals: 4.
Reagan Poole: Defender, 17. Born: Cardiff. Debut: v FC Midtjylland (Europa Lg) Feb 25. Apps 1.
Joe Riley: Defender, 19. Born: Blackpool. Debut: v Shrewsbury (FA Cup) Feb 22. Apps 2.
Donald Love: Defender, 21. Born: Rochdale. Debut: v Sunderland (Prem Lg) Feb 13. Apps 2.
Guilermo Varela: Defender, 22. Born: Montevideo, Uruguay. Debut: v Wolfsburg (Champs Lg) Dec 8. Apps 7.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson: Defender, 19. Born: Manchester. Debut: v West Brom (Prem Lg) Nov 7. Apps 12.
Jesse Lingard: Striker, 23. Born: Warrington. Debut: v Swansea (Prem Lg) Aug 16. Apps: 24. Goals: 5.
Tyler Blackett: Defender, 21. Born: Manchester. Debut: v Swansea (Prem Lg) Aug 16. Apps 12. On loan at Celtic.
Andreas Pereira: Midfielder, 20. Born: Duffel, Belgium (represents Brazil). Debut: v MK Dons (Lg Cup) Aug 26. Games 12. Goals 1.