Football: Judge van Gaal only in 2 to 3 years' time

Football: Judge van Gaal only in 2 to 3 years' time
Class of 92 & Friends English former defender Gary Neville (L) warms-up with teammates before the pre-season football match between Class of 92 & Friends and Salford City at the AJ Stadium in Salford, north west England on August 7, 2014.

Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville has backed Louis van Gaal - who has had a rough start as the new manager at Old Trafford - to turn the corner.

He said the wily tactician should be judged only in "two to three years' time", noting that the squad remains "incomplete" even after a £150 million (S$310 million) summer splurge.

"It's no secret - van Gaal needs more defensive players," Neville, 39, told The Sunday Times in an exclusive phone interview.

"They tried to sign replacements for Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic over the summer but how many players are out there who can shoulder such a responsibility?"

While goal poachers like Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Ander Herrera helped the squad bristle with firepower, an out-and-out central defender was not signed.

United had been linked to the likes of Borussia Dortmund captain Mats Hummels and Paris Saint-Germain hardman Thiago Silva.

The gaping hole in the heart of the backline has become more pronounced in recent weeks as Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones battle for form and fitness.

Last Sunday's 3-5 loss at Leicester City marked the first time the Red Devils lost a Premier League match after leading by two goals.

It has led to the first murmurings of discontent against the Dutchman from the Old Trafford faithful, with the players themselves reportedly perplexed by the substitution of star man di Maria midway through the second-half.

Neville accused the players of being "soft-centred" and "bullied" after the Leicester debacle.

The eight-time EPL winner said: "They're being physically out-muscled and are losing 50-50 challenges, something (former manager) Sir Alex (Ferguson) would not have stood for."

Earlier this week, Neville's brother Philip - also a United stalwart - noted the club needed to fork out another £100 million to become a serious title threat once more.

But if there is one positive from the lack of defensive depth, it is that youngsters such as Tyler Blackett, 20, and Tom Thorpe, 21, have been fast-tracked into first-team action.

"We may look back on this in a few years' time and say that this defensive crisis was the making of the next generations of United stars," said Neville, who rose through the youth ranks to clock 400 appearances for the Red Devils.

"This club has always been about giving youngsters a chance to live a dream.

"If fans believe in the cause, I'm sure the good times will return."

This article was first published on September 28, 2014.
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