Where are they now? Manchester United’s first XI under Louis van Gaal

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Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal before their defeat to Swansea City at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, August 2014.

Louis van Gaal is arguably the most divisive post-Ferguson manager of Manchester United among the club’s supporters.

A large section of the Old Trafford faithful remembers Van Gaal’s two years in charge with little fondness, with a dull playing style and a string of underwhelming performances.

But some supporters recognise Van Gaal’s commitment to youth, having bought through the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, and point to the 2016 FA Cup win as a sign that good times were just around the corner.

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. But what cannot be argued is that the Van Gaal era began with an inauspicious defeat.

We’ve taken a look at the United side that lost 2-1 to Swansea in August 2014 and how they’ve fared since.

David de Gea

One of only two current United players who’ve won the league at Old Trafford, De Gea has served the club with distinction since 2011.

Initially thought to be too-weedy for the Premier League, which explains why he was caught shoplifting Krispy Kremes from Tesco, the goalkeeper blossomed into one of the world’s best custodians and has bailed United out on more than one occasion.

After coming under criticism the past few seasons, the Spaniard has returned to some of his best form this year and has effectively seen off the challenge of Dean Henderson.

Phil Jones

Once tipped to be United’s greatest ever player by Sir Alex Ferguson – who, let’s remind ourselves, was only human – Jones failed to live up to those lofty expectations and has endured an injury-hit career.

The centre-back rejected the chance of a testimonial in 2021, telling Goal: “There’d be only my mum and dad who would turn up.”

But Jones made a surprise appearance against Wolves in January 2022 and was arguably United’s best player on the evening.

His long-term future still probably lies away from Old Trafford but it was hard to begrudge Jones his moment of pride.

Chris Smalling

Smalling made 323 games for United, winning two Premier League winners’ medals, the FA Cup, EFL Cup and the Europa League, but never convinced the Stretford End with his defensive capabilities.

But the defender was a revelation during a season-long-loan at Roma. Growing his hair out like a stereotypical gap-year student, Smalling won a legion of fans in Serie A with his full-bloodied attitude and supreme heading ability.

His move to Italy was made permanent in 2020 but Smalling’s long-standing injury problems reared their ugly head again.

We can’t imagine he was too pleased to see Jose Mourinho move to the Eternal City either…

Tyler Blackett

Blackett was a surprise inclusion in Van Gaal’s first line-up as United suffered from a defensive injury crisis.

The youngster made 12 appearances in 2014-15 and was tipped to become a “great defender” after signing a new deal in 2015.

But a loan spell at Celtic proved unproductive the following season and Blackett was sold to Reading, where he ended up appearing over 100 times before leaving in 2020.

After a season with Nottingham Forest, Blackett moved to America and joined MLS side FC Cincinnati on a free transfer – where he’s yet to make an appearance.

Ashley Young 

The defeat against Swansea is definitely best remembered for a bird defecating in Young’s mouth – something the United man denies to this day.

Young reinvented himself as a full-back and had a spell as United’s captain, though his performances began to decline under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The former-England international moved to Internazionale in January 2020, winning the Serie A title, before returning to his old club Aston Villa last summer.

Back in 2014, the thought of him playing under Steven Gerrard would’ve been a weird one, yet here we are.

 

Darren Fletcher

One of United’s most underrated players during the 2000s, Fletcher is now the club’s Technical Director – and has been seen communicating with interim boss Ralf Rangnick on matchday via an earpiece.

It’s clear that Fletcher is highly-thought of at United and he’ll play a crucial role in appointing the club’s next permanent manager in the summer.

Ander Herrera (Marouane Fellaini, ’67)

Having been lined up by David Moyes the previous year, Herrera eventually arrived at Old Trafford in the summer of 2014 but didn’t last the full 90 minutes of his debut appearance.

But the tough-tackling midfielder recovered to appear made 189 appearances across five seasons at the club, winning the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League.

Having seen out his contract, he signed a five-year deal with PSG in the summer of 2019, winning a domestic treble and starting in the Champions League final defeat to Bayern Munich in his first season.

The 32-year-old remains an important part of the French giant’s side to this day, making 19 league appearances in the 2021-22 season to date.

His replacement during the Swansea defeat needs no introduction.

Fellaini was one of the most divisive Manchester United players of recent years, but history will probably be kind to a player that served a purpose at Old Trafford.

The afro-haired midfielder left for China in January 2019 and remains a Shandong Luneng player to this day.

Juan Mata

He’s probably stayed at United for a few years too long but Mata is still highly-regarded amongst the club’s supporters – scoring acrobatic volleys at Anfield is just one of the reasons why.

READ: An ode to Juan Mata at Man Utd, a magical square peg in a round hole

Jesse Lingard (Adnan Januzaj, ’24)

Van Gaal entrusted Lingard with a start in his first competitive match in charge of United.

But the youngster had to be replaced due to injury after just 24 minutes and, by the time he returned to fitness, he was sent out on loan to Derby.

His breakthrough came during the following season and the cult of ‘JLingz’ steadily grew over the remainder of the decade.

Despite a sensational loan spell at West Ham, Lingard remains out-of-favour at United and looks certain to leave at the end of the 2021-22 season.

His replacement was widely considered Manchester United’s future back in August 2014.

“I’ve played at United and you’re very conscious of adding too much pressure to young players. However, I genuinely think this guy could be one of the best in the world. I think he’s that talented,” Gary Neville said earlier that year.

Januzaj didn’t turn out to be one of the best players in the world but he’s been decent enough at Real Sociedad. The Belgium international, who scored against England at the 2018 World Cup, has clocked up over 100 appearances for La Real who are currently riding high in La Liga.

Javier Hernandez (Nani, ’45)

While he may never have been the main man at United, Hernandez still managed to score 59 goals in all competitions across four seasons as a regular first-team player.

Joining United after some stellar performances for Mexico at the 2010 World Cup, Chicarito shone in his first season at Old Trafford but his star was on the wane by 2014.

After being substituted here, the striker was loaned out to Real Madrid for the 2014-15 season before joining Bayer Leverkusen permanently the following year.

A bizarre spell at West Ham followed and the 33-year-old has spent the last two years at LA Galaxy – where he scored 17 goals in the 2021 season.

Nani also spent the season away from Old Trafford, at Sporting Lisbon, before joining Fenerbache the following summer.

He’s just signed for Serie A fashionistas Venezia and he was a damn sight better for United than you remember…

Luis Nani celebrates after scoring for Manchester United.

READ: Nani, Man Utd, and the unfair portrayal of a ‘frustrating’ talent

Wayne Rooney

United’s record goalscorer is currently making an impressive fist of keeping financially-hamstrung Derby in the Championship this season.

At this rate, you wouldn’t rule out a return to Old Trafford as the club’s manager…


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