Louis van Gaal has stated the atmosphere between his Manchester United players is too cordial and suggested the squad would benefit from being more critical of one another and of themselves.
His side welcome Sheffield United to Old Trafford on Saturday in the third round of the FA Cup and the Dutchman has eased the pressure on his position following a goalless draw with Chelsea and last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Swansea City, United’s first victory in nine matches.
Asked if there had been a better mood at the club since the display against Chelsea, Van Gaal said: “I don’t think so. The atmosphere in our dressing room is very good. Maybe too good because they are always protecting the dressing room, their colleagues. That is very good until a certain height.”
The implication of this is that the changing room can be a cosy environment. This is in contrast to the claim made by Gary Neville about United under David Moyes. Following a David de Gea mistake that gifted Tottenham Hotspur a late equaliser at White Hart Lane, the former United captain said: “There is an incredible amount of accountability in that dressing room. It is not a place that is forgiving, it is not a place where you won’t get people who will confront each other when mistakes are made.”
Van Gaal is clear how the lack of accountability in his team can be eradicated. “We have also changed our approach to the players to make it easier to take responsibility,” he said. “We are trying everything to come to a solution but at the end it always comes down to we are better than the opponents but we have to score goals.
“I have stimulated them to think about football. The game is a brain sport and now you can let them think with you and therefore you can change your approach and so the players take the [responsibility], for example for the gameplan and other kinds of decisions and then the [responsibility] is higher and bigger.
“But we have to see how it shall work.”
This week the style played by Van Gaal was criticised by Herbert Hainer, the chief executive of Adidas. The company is paying United a record £750m over the next decade as the kit sponsor. Van Gaal attempted to shrug this off. “He is more interested in revenues and these were very good.”
Adnan Januzaj is back at United after his season’s loan at Borussia Dortmund proved unsuccessful because of a lack of game time and he is unavailable to play in the tie due to lack of fitness. Van Gaal denied that it was make-or-break for the Belgian’s career at the club. “You cannot predict something just because of talent– you have to develop it,” he said. “We have to see that from him. That’s why we put him on loan, because I predicted, already then, that he shall not play too much.
“I cannot predict now if he has changed or that he already has his development, because he didn’t play. I cannot do two things – be here and in Dortmund to watch him training.”
Van Gaal refused to be drawn on whether Januzaj should have been good enough to have stayed at United and played in the first XI. “I cannot judge that, neither can you,” he said. “That you have to ask him, not to me. I have an interest in him, of course, otherwise I would not take him back. But I cannot judge, and you cannot judge me.”
Phil Jones is unavailable for the visit of Sheffield United because of a foot problem but Jesse Lingard has recovered from his hamstring injury and Will Keane may feature after his return from a temporary spell at Preston.