Louis van Gaal says it will take him three months to work his magic but the club must still make the right signings this week if he is to get the best out of a stale squad
By Sam Lee
"That is one argument why I chose this system. I can play them all - that is important," Louis van Gaal has said of squeezing Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie all into the same Manchester United team. The problem, though, is that most of the players behind them are nowhere near their level and cannot exploit their talents.
For various reasons, United's three summer signings to date were not available to play in the 1-1 draw with Sunderland, meaning the entire midfield and defence was made up of players who could easily have left Old Trafford this summer without anybody batting an eye-lid.
It was a stark reminder of how far this famous club has to go to before they are challenging at the top level.
Van Gaal has often been proven right in his distinguished career, and it certainly seems he was bang on the money when he suggested he would need around three months to get things moving in the right direction.
The Dutchman says he can get the best out of United by "training the brains" of the players already at his disposal, but he must be supported by United's money men to bring in fresh faces - and indeed brains - if he can take this club back into the Champions League.
It is certainly going to be a busy, and potentially pivotal, week.
As an incredibly expensive deal for Angel Di Maria moves closer, United are clearly making belated and much needed moves in the transfer market. A number of new players are expected to join before 11pm on September 1 as the club look to make up for mistakes in previous years.
Di Maria, even for the mega money Real Madrid are demanding and the gaping holes elsewhere in the United squad, would be an excellent addition for any club, let alone one bereft of world class players and Champions League football.
For one, he brings an X Factor which has been missing at Old Trafford for what seems like forever. The star man in last season's Champions League final, and indeed vital to the most recent trophies Madrid have won, he is only on the market because of Florentino Perez's insatiable desire for new star names.
But United must ensure they are not just taking a car with a duff engine and giving it a fresh lick of paint. Midfielders and defenders are needed, and they need to be able to play the way Van Gaal wants.
Daley Blind is still high on the agenda, and goes to show that Di Maria is a one-off, jewel-in-the-crown statement. The Dutchman may not be a stellar name, but he has the qualities Van Gaal needs if he is to succeed at Old Trafford.
Blind, like Marcos Rojo, is another versatile player capable of filling a number of positions. The Ajax man did exactly that for Van Gaal at the World Cup and should, in theory, smooth the transition as United get used to the new man in town.
That is exactly what the club's stale squad needs now. Judging by the displays against Swansea City and Sunderland so far, the current players in the squad are, if we're being forgiving, still learning the ropes. Perhaps some are just not good enough.
Even allowing for the absence of injured players, the defence and midfield is shockingly low on quality and maybe even the ability to play how Van Gaal wants. Whereas Netherlands were set up to exploit the quality of one or two talented forwards in Brazil, United are too slow and stodgy to serve Mata, Rooney and Van Persie.
Darren Fletcher, who has barely played in two years, simply cannot be expected to set the pace like he once did, and people like Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Ashley Young will never take the game by the scruff of its neck.
Van Gaal has proven his ability to coach the best out of his players in his 20-plus years in management, but the real improvement at United will only come when he has men out there on the pitch, like Blind, who can immediately implement and show the others what he is trying to achieve.
Only then will support players like Smalling, Cleverley and Phil Jones grow in stature and be able to show they belong at Manchester United.
Soon, Van Gaal will expect United to be picking up wins not because his team is bursting with star names, but because they are a well-oiled machine, carrying out his orders and maximising their potential.
Di Maria is a fantastic start, but until the club spend money on the right men a return to the Champions League, let alone winning the title, remains a huge ask.