Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has said that he deserves praise for the development of academy graduates this season, stating that it has taken “guts” to field them in the white heat of the Premier League competition.
Despite the extraordinary development of Marcus Rashford, now an integral part of the side who face Everton in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley tomorrow, United parted company with under-18 coach Paul McGuiness in February. But when it was put to Van Gaal that that McGuiness and Warren Joyce, whose under-21s won the under-21 Premier League this week, had ensured that the youngsters were “ready” when he needed them, the Dutchman said that fielding in the senior side took bravery.
“You always need guts to put youngsters in the squad and line-up,” Van Gaal said. “Of course the academy and the coaches have credit for these players and also the scouts who have discovered these boys have credits. I am a little part of it. This part is important because you need the guts to do it.”
Despite Rashford’s seven goals in 13, Van Gaal said that neither he nor Tim Fosu-Mensah are the finished article. “They are not ready, I’m sorry,” said Van Gaal, who was prickly despite Wednesday night’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace which puts the side a point behind Arsenal in fifth spot. “Marcus Rashford is not ready – he knows that, he can learn a lot.”
Though the use of 14 academy players in two seasons has been partly forced upon the Dutchman by injuries and the struggle to buy players he wanted, he does deserve the credit he wants and his willingness to turn to youth has characterised his managerial career.
“I have had this at all my clubs because I give youngsters the chance to do that,” he said. “My first club was AZ Alkmaar and I was trainer coach of the second team and then I played with five from the second team when I took over as coach of the first team. I was player and assistant coach. Patrick Kluivert [whom he also blooded] made the same performances as Marcus Rashford.” He cited other youngsters he has blooded. “At Bayern Munich Thomas Muller, Xavi was 18, [Andres] Iniesta was 17, [Thiago] Motta who is now at PSG. It is not strange. Age is not the big issues, quality is the big issue.”
Van Gaal cited United’s progress to this weekend’s semi-final as evidence of how he feels his side is “better” than last year. “We are further than last year. We were in the quarter finals. Now we are in the semi-finals I believe. It means we are better than last year.”
The match sees Everton manager Roberto Martinez under more pressure than Van Gaal after the 4-0 hammering at Anfield by Liverpool. But he would not enter a discussion about Martinez’s own qualities in blooding young players. “I don’t want to interfere in another man’s job and environment. It is not good to do that,” he said.