Lately, there have been a lot of negative reports over the players’ dissatisfaction towards Van Gaal whereby the senior players have voiced out their unhappiness on the coach’s tactics, training and regimes. It couldn’t be sure whether or not these reports hold any truth but it all sounds too familiar if we go back to the time of Carlos Queiroz as Fergie’s right hand man.
It was all started in the year 2000, at the back of winning the treble in 1999, United went on to win their third consecutive Premier League titles with a record 18 points clear of second placed Arsenal, scoring 97 goals in 38 games.In Europe, even though United were not able to defend the Champions League title, losing 3-2 to eventual winner, Real Madrid, it was nothing to be ashamed of as United were by no means outplayed and could have easily won the game with a little bit of luck. The players did their best and it was just not their day. United had their heads held high.
But, Fergie had other ideas; he knew that European oppositions were too sophisticated, tactically, to allow United “to do it the hard way”, by making comebacks from deficit which they did it so frequently in the hustle and bustle of Premier League. Fergie understood that in order to succeed in European Competition, he can’t leave anything to chances, the degree of control in matches had to be increased. To put it simply, instead of having 10 chances and allowing the opponent 5 chances, it would be better to have 5 chances and not allowing any to the opponent.
Thus, the quest for continental style of possession football had started since then. In 2001, Fergie brought in Juan Sebastian Veron and Ruud Van Nistelrooy to aid the transition from high intensity game to a more methodological approach by changing the formation from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1. Roy Keane partnered Juan Sebastian Veron in the centre of the pitch while Paul Scholes was pushed higher up as attacking midfielder to support the lone striker, Van Nistelrooy. This possessional based football did not go well with the supporters who were chanting “4-4-2, 4-4-2”, demanding Fergie to revert back to the tactical system which served the team so well previously.
It was understandable as the players played awkwardly in this new formation and the performances were uninspiring or more precisely, boring. Besides, the new system did not make United more effective in both Premier League and Champions League. United lost 10 Premier League’s games even before Christmas, finished third place at the end of the season and was tamely eliminated by Bayern Munich in the quarter final of Champions League. It was tough for the players who used to play in certain ways to alter their playing styles to fit into this new system.
In hindsight, rather than evolution, to successfully implement this new approach, revolution was required. The catalyst of the revolution was the arrival of Carlos Queiroz in 2002 who left United briefly in 2003 to take charge of Real Madrid and returned as Fergie’s no.2 again in 2004. Although United did win the Premier League in 2003, in subsequent 3 years, it was one of the darkest period in Fergie’s 26 years tenure while the team were making the transition towards a more continental approach.
Queiroz played a prominently role in those periods as Fergie had given him the full authority to undertake the transformation; it was not exaggerated to say that he was the manager behind the scenes. With Queiroz exerting his methods into the training ground, drilling and moulding the team, the players were not happy as they found the training sessions were too repetitive. As a result, Gary Neville and the players planned to do a revolt against Queiroz but Fergie able to stamp his authority and defused it.
Fergie’s faith in his assistant manager remained unwavering despite apparent discontent within the squad and fans over the perceived negative tactics favoured by the Portuguese coach. He was convinced that the continental-style system can prompt tangible rewards in Europe and the Premiership in the years to come.
Criticism and negative pieces never failed to find its way in newspapers from the media and pundits during that periods.
“Queiroz has been instrumental in United adopting a 4-3-3 formation over the past year, a set-up which too readily transforms into 4-5-1 and has often left Ruud van Nistelrooy isolated up front and Wayne Rooney frustrated in a deeper or peripheral role. United have laboured playing the system over the last week – their last three games, against Manchester City, Villarreal and Liverpool, have yielded only five shots on target – prompting suggestions of simmering unrest among the playing squad, though Ferguson’s support of his No2 will be maintained regardless”wrote Dominic Fifield in The Guardian.
“This is a man (Queiroz) derided by the fans, a man whose track record is one of failure,”Johnny Flacks of the Independent Manchester United Supporters’ Association.
“Most United fans have had enough. They have had enough of 4-3-2-1; of an abuse of the heritage of the club that has not occurred since the Sexton years; of the moronic twitter of the man they lovelessly call Carlos Queirozzzz; “- Rob Symth, The Guardian.
“To that end, the manager has stuck strictly to the formation even when United have been chasing a game” – Dominic Fifield, The Guardian.
The failure to recruit Robben and Ronaldinho who looked certain to be joining United, halted the transition. Instead, United had to rely on young and inexperience Rooney and Ronaldo, both broke the transfer fees record for a teenager at that time. Having said that, Queiroz knew he had 2 arguably best young players in his disposal which will be the core of the team when they fully realised their potential. “The future is always exciting here and I believe that, if we keep the core of our best players together, we will have a very strong team for the next 10 years.”
With Queiroz continued to search for new players who could fit into his system, this resulted the breaking up of the 99 squad most notably Roy Keane. Phil Neville, one of the Fergie’s fledglings was sold to Everton and senior players like Giggs was given a bit part role to play. This infuriated the fans even further. Everything seemed to be going down hill.
One of the allegation was that Queiroz’s system of 4-2-3-1, with Ruud van Nistelrooy as a solitary attacker, was too cagey and went against United’s famed spirit of adventure. They had not won any of their last 11 home matches by more than a single goal at one time in which Queiroz replied “When you think about the Blackburn game, we created six or seven clear opportunities and would usually score more.” Of course, the pundits and fans disagreed with his assessment.
Fast forward to season 2007-2008, everything fell into places and the rebuilding finally paid off in which Jonathan Wilson proclaimed “For the first time in over 30 years, an English side became a world leader in tactical innovation this decade”. United won the Champions League and Premier League in 2008 , subsequently appeared in 2 more finals and 4 more Premier League titles.
After that, this was the heading from the media :
How will Ferguson manage without Queiroz? – Daniel Taylor, Guardian 2008 when Queiroz left United.
Alex Ferguson was as adept at evolving tactically as any manager in history – Jonathan Wilson, The Guardian.