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Pawel Smyk - Interview with Jonathan Wilson for www.manutd.pl

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If it was up to you, what will be the perfect system for Manchester United, what is the best tactic that will suits to the players Van Gaal now has?

- Well, I think he has few options. I mean, when you have Van Persie, Falcao and Rooney and you want to play all of them, the only way you can play is either 3-4-1-2 or the diamond, which he has been using. It maybe leaves United a little bit expose at the back, in which case he goes to 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 and that means you only play one - Van Persie or Falcao. But I think this is such an imbalance squad that United have, it's quite difficult to pick out only one formation. They got huge numbers of options up the front of the pitch and not many at the back. So I would imagine over the next year or so, there will be some kind of rationalisation happens that one or two of the forwards will leave and couple of defenders will come in. Yeah, Van Gaal historically is always refer to 4-3-3, I think it's still the formation he's most comfortable with, but he's obviously is prepared to change. But I think if Van Persie and Falcao are both fit and both in form, then you probably go with the diamond.

Yeah, but do you think that this pair can cooperate effectively or one of them should be dropped to bench?

- I think they're both different enough, they're both intelligent enough that they can play together. If they're both fit, I would try to keep them there. I guess if Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney are both playing brilliantly, then you drop one of them and play Rooney further up the pitch. But I don't see any reason why they can't play together. Having said that, this clearly an issue with both of them - Falcao had his knee problem for a long time, we don't know how serious that is, how much this is gonna affect him for the rest of the season and Van Persie by his own ambition hasn't been playing particularly well this season and to be honest he didn't play well last season. So maybe he's reaching the age, when he can't play well consistently and ends up being a choice of one or the other. But I certainly think that they can play together.

Before the previous season started, Gary Neville claimed that David Moyes would have trouble with changing of United’s football style. He also stated that it was more likely that Manchester United would change Moyes, not the other way round, because United got used to the wing-play. Do you think Louis van Gaal faces the same problem as his predecessor or the club has resigned from the wing-play used in the sir Alex Ferguson’s times?

- I think the wing-play was certainly a feature of United, say, ten years ago, but I think even towards the end of the Ferguson it was less of an issue. It was obviously that season 2009/10, when Valencia was playing really well and you had Nani on the other flank. But I think it changed a bit the 4-2-3-1, that they played towards the end of Ferguson, was different way of playing. Even the way they played when they had Tevez, Rooney, Giggs and Ronaldo together it wasn't sort of traditional wing-play, it wasn't wide player beating the full-back on the outside and putting crosses in, so I'm sceptical about that. Having said that, I think it's much easier for Van Gaal to change things than it was for Moyes, partly because he has the buffer, he has one year without Ferguson, when things gone badly wrong, so people will be more prepared to listen to the new ideas. I think any team who just won championship, particularly under the manager who is successful as Ferguson, who's been there for so long, there will be resistance to change. People will be saying: "Hang on, last season we won the title and we played like this, why we had change?". Well, that's not there, last season was terrible and thereful further will be willingness to adapt and of course there's been huge influx of new signings as well, who didn't play under Ferguson and they don't know what was it like and they're quite prepared to do what they told. But also Van Gaal is just a bigger personality than Moyes, he's got an incredible track record of success. Well, Moyes was having to make a step up and there's always be a little bit suspicion of Moyes, which I think ended up in the end sort of undermining him. Van Gaal is not gonna be undermine, Van Gaal is Van Gaal, he's done great things in the past and he believe he'll do great things in the future. He's not gonna allow club to change him, it will be done Van Gaal's way or won't be done at all.

It seems that the statement „United’s problems started with the appointment of David Moyes” is sweeping. Are you able to point out a particular moment when United started to fall behind the European elite, mainly in the tactical aspects?

- I think it's been a general problem for the Premier League, really since 2011, and I know that Chelsea has won the following year, but that was a freakish occurrence. Lack spell between 2005 and 2009, when regularly had three English teams in the semi-finals and the last five years that hasn't be the case. Yeah, United get to the final in 2011. So I think it's been lessening the power of the Premier League and in part that's a deal with a fact even the biggest clubs, don't quite have a spending power, alike to the glamour of Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Certainly Manchester City has huge amounts of money, but they are only City, so the players are doubtful about joining them and now of course the Financial Fair Play is much more restricted. The way that money is distributed from television deals in the Premier League makes it much harder for those big clubs to compete with likes of Real Madrid for the biggest players. And that's one of the reasons that the level dropped. This season is a bit different, because Chelsea has dominated the league, but last season there were really four or five teams in the title race for long time. I mean it's very easy to forget, but Arsenal was on top of the table until February. Liverpool had a great season, Chelsea until six weeks at the end of the season looked like they could win it and United were defending Champions. So there were five or six teams in the race last season and that means it's a harder league. The best teams are having to play hard every week and have to play hard more often than Real Madrid or Barcelona, even now, when Atletico became third force last season. When you look at the Spanish League and there are far more results like 5 or 6:0 than there are in the Premier League. So that series has affected United.

Have thay fall behind tactically? I'm not sure about that, I think Guardiola does things in Guardiola's way and it's unusual way and difficult way for the players, but when it works it's brilliant. But nobody else is doing that, that's Guardiola issue rather than United issue or Real Madrid issue. I don't see anything Real Madrid did last season is particulary clever, they just had really good players and they played pretty basic 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. They got their tactics right against Bayern, by seeing deep, but it wasn't anything radical, wasn't anything new. Barcelona obviously fall away a little bit. So I think Guardiola stands alone tactically, I'm not sure that there's too much too new, too excited or too dificult anywhere else. Even Atletico who massively overperformed, they were playing pretty simple 4-4-2, they just played very very effectively. So I don't think it's a tactical issue.

You mentioned that the Premier League were big power in Europe but now they're struggling. Do you think that this is going to change anytime soon?

- I think Chelsea can compete this season and they got huge advantage, 8 points clear away from City already [The interview had taken place on 13th November]. So Chelsea are playing really well, they got well balanced side. If Diego Costa stays fit, then, I'm not saying they gonna win it, but you look at the other teams in Europe and you would say: "Are they good as Bayern Munich?". Maybe not. "Are they good as Real Madrid?". Maybe not. "Could they beat them on a given day?". Yeah, of course they could. "Are they good as Barcelona?". I think they probably are. So you would rank them probably third in Europe and that means they can win the Champions League. You look at the rest... I guess it's completely conceivable say something can happen to City, everything will click and they could start playing brilliant football in January, but there's a danger they not gonna go through the group. Liverpool won't do anything, they're struggle to get through and maybe they would and maybe they won't. But defensively they're not good enough. Arsenal would get through, but they have to get very kind draw to make the quaterfinal. So Arsenal not good enough defensively, City potencially can do something if they improve, Chelsea are challenges. If you're saying are we goona go back to the situation anytime soon, where there are three Premier League teams in semifinals? No, I don't think we are. That's a deal with Financial Fair Plays, it's a deal with distribution of money and it's partly a deal with Premier League teams are just used to buying a success. They buy players already made and as a result those players maybe don't quite have same commitment to the club as you look at Barcelona players who come through there. You look at Bayern Munich - they have very young group, they have the identity with the club, a sense of affiliation. That means their team is less break up, they're fraction more motivatied than the teams who been bought and put together that way.

Michael Carrick has already recovered from injury, so do you think he can play an important role in van Gaal’s plans? Moreover, do you think he is capable of playing as a centre-back and may be a real option for the defensive line due to injury crysis? What about his future in the United’s midfield, taking the fact, that they had bought Daley Blind?

- It's interesting point when you have him and Daley Blind, both can play as holding midfielders, both can play as centre-back. The [Crystal] Palace game Blind started as centre-back and Carrick in midfield, which I think was surprise to a lot of people. I don't think either of them is a long time solution. I think ideally you want a proper centre-backs in there. Both lack pace, both are good with the ball, in some ways they're quite similar players. Blind maybe is a better striker with a ball and he's obviously a lot younger, but I think either of them playing as a centre-back is a short time measure until they [the team] get over injuries or maybe buy someone new in January. Carrick is been there for so long, I think when a player turns thirty and if he got a long term injury, it could be very difficult to get back. On the other hand I think he's a player who is sensible, he can look after himself, he's not going to get out to drink regularly or anything like that, so he should be able to get back. Does he have a long term future there? I don't see how you can play him and Daley Blind together. Blind is younger and probably better, so Carrick will probably hang around as a reserve for a while and then retire. I don't think he can move to another club to play regularly, I'm not sure he's got a fitness anymore. I also think purely in terms of a dynamism, you can't play him and Blind together in midfield. One in defence and one in midfield is also short term measure.

How would you asset the work of Louis van Gaal from tactical point of view? What is he doing wrong and what’s good? What are his weakness and strengths?

- I'm not sure weakness is a quite the right word. By his own admission, he underestimated the physicality of the Premier League and that's why he's brought in Marouane Fellaini. I think United problems are personalities, they have really unbalanced squad and huge number of injuries. I don't think it's an issue with Van Gaal. What is he doing well? It's what he's been doing well for 25 years, he has his own way of playing, he presses very well and he has a philosophy which historically been very good at instill it into players. I think as he got older he's become more flexible, he's less dependent of playing 4-3-3. He played 4-2-3-1 at Bayern, he played 4-4-2 at AZ, he played the back three during the World Cup. Basically him and Marcelo Bielsa are the two people who have the greatest influence over modern tactic over last 25 years, so what is he doing well? He's inculcate those ideas in this team and I think you'll see them in a month, two or three, when injuries are over, when they're got settled. You'll see them pressing much better than they have been, you'll see them winning the ball in half of the pitch and you'll see more inventive use of space. We talked about the wing-play earlier - look how Robben played during the World Cup, he played sort of half-centre half-winger and I think Van Gaal likes the idea when pace comes from an unusual position. Di Maria gives you that in a way, it slightly different way to Robben, but... I think the key really is if he plays the front two, are they gonna go on top of each other and be able to split and create room for Rooney. So if they gonna to do that, then I think United will have a very good end of the season, maybe ends up being a 4-3-3. Also in terms of youngsters like Adnan Januzaj or James Wilson, the benefit they have for having such a tactically astute coach working with them when they're as young as they are. I think it could be huge for a future.

What do you think of Juan Mata’s role in the team? I mean, he’s struggling a little bit, he costed a lot of money, but now is often on the bench, because Wayne Rooney plays in his position.

- Yeah, I think he's been very unlucky. He was player of the year two years in a row in Chelsea, then Mourinho arrived and decided that he didn't like him, so he went to United. I don't really understand why United has signed him, he didn't seem like the player that United needed. At the time they already had Rooney, Kagawa and Januzaj who can play in that position. Then they had signed Di Maria, aldo it's not the same position, but it's another attacking presence in midfield. All the stories that I heard in the summer, Van Gaal wasn't convinced by him, I think it's a perception that aldo he's very good in possession, he's a little bit slow out possession. Some of his decisions making are too slow. It's been made pretty clear that Van Gaal prefers Rooney in that role. Having said that it comes Mata who scores a winner against Crystal Palace. I think he still has opportunity there to force his way into the side. When you playing with a diamond and you've got him, Rooney and Januzaj, you can pick one of those three and then you can pick two of Rooney, Van Persie and Falcao for the front two positions. So he's competing with a lot of players. If it's a 4-3-3 it's really hard to see where he fits. Obviously he's better in the centre, than at wide.

What do you think of Man United’s transfer policy and Ed Woodward work after he took over from David Gill? You mentioned that Juan Mata was a failure, but what about this summer?

- Well I think it's been disaster to be honest. Disaster maybe too strong, but it's been very strange. Whether Ed Woodward is too blame or not, I don't know. But for two years they've done badly in the windows. Mata seems to me a strange sign for that price and when you look at the signings these summer no one was bought at the back of the team, despite the fact they knew that Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra was leaving and that's put huge responsibility on Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. None of them were fit for long term or for long period. Ok, Luke Shaw came in but he's still very young. The problems of United were obvious, I mean anybody could see it's potentially gonna happen and you have to criticise transfer policy. You look back at previous summer and all things happened then. What happened with Ander Herrera, what was that all about? People who weren't representative of the club tried to sign him? It just seems so bizarre. And the Fellaini deal was really strange. United could have signed him six weeks earlier and they would got him cheaper, so why sign him od deadline day? I don't know if it's true, but it looked from the outside that David Moyes wasn't entirely convienced that he was good enough and he thought: "I would find somebody else" and then they didn't find somebody else. It seems he thought: "Actually... I know Fellaini, I know he's solid enough, I know he wants to come and we can get him. Yeah, ok, we pay 5 milion pounds more than we needed to, but let's do it". It seems like panic signing on deadline day. It's like just before Christmas, when you go to the shop and you see chicken there and think: "Oh, should I get a chicken? No no no, I'll wait and I'll find a turkey." And you look at the rest of the shop and suddenly: "Oh shit, all the turkeys are gone" then you go back and the chicken is still there, but the price has gone up: "Oh, fuck, I have to buy anyway".

If you were to create a profle of a modern football manager, which features would you attribute to him? Which of contemporary managers bear the biggest resemblance to your ideal model of the manager?

- I don't know, I mean there's so many ways to do the job and that's one of the beauties of it. I think Mourinho is probably the best in terms of assessing a game as it's going on and making changes to change the shape or the flow of the game. Mourinho seems to be the best. In terms of dealing with the press Van Gaal and Rodgers are very good. Van Gaal has different way to Rodgers, but they communicate the ideas quite clearly and interesting way. I think Van Gaal commands respect in the dressing room, Mourinho clearly does that as well. But that's something that Pochettino is struggling with the Tottenham, that Villas-Boas was struggled with.

If you asking who motivates players the most I think Ferguson was great at that. In history probably the best would be Brian Clough. If you want somebody with the philosophy, the clear way of playing, the idea of how football should be played then again it would be Van Gaal. I think a lot of what we used to tribute to the managers is now done by the board, by the director of football in terms of signing players. And you look at what Southampton have done or what Swansea have done - signing players for not huge amount of money, excellent scouting and really clear philosophy. Swansea has been brilliant to that, the board said: "This is how we gonna play, these are the players we gonna sign and we'll sign a coach who will work with that". That meant they had Kenny Jackett and when he went, they brought in [Roberto] Martinez. After him Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers, Michael Laudrup and now they got Gary Monk. All of them are done well within their own parameters. So even if Laudrup in some ways was the worst, he's the one who won Capital One Cup. To get that consistency that's not to do with the managers, that's to do with the board, which been very inteligent about recrutement and about having a clear philosophy for the club.

Considering modern football, do you think that we already know everything about the tactics? May we expect another book of yours which would concern the matter of the football tactics, as your previous work „Inverting the Pyramid” did?

- No, we definitely don't know everything. Things are changing all the time and they will continue to change. Players will be fitter, use of data these days is becoming increasingly important and that could actually have radical effect. Particularly in game - if you're getting the data fed through to you and for instance you notice the opposition left back is running 2 km now slower than he was in the first half, then you target him, because he's obviously tired. Similar if you realize one of your players is getting tired, you substitute him or you change his role to protect him. So I think we're right at the start of a data revolution and I think that would quite profound effect on football. Another book? Well, I wrote "Inverting the pyramid" in 2008, updated it last year. I guess every 5 years it would be that time to have anything new worth adding. But that's not guaranteed that there's gonna be another version in 2018, but hopefully there's gonna be update version at some point, not too far of that. Whether is worth to write a whole new book about tactics rather than update the old one, I'm not sure. But yeah, you constantly learning new things and new things are constantly happening.

What has Twitter changed in your job and social media in general? Is it easier now or you’re more of a „it used to be better” type of journalist?

- I don't think it's better or worse, it's just different. Twitter keeps you up to date incredibly quickly, something happens and within seconds people tweeting about it and you know it. In terms of breaking news you're on top of everything much faster than you used to be. What I think has changed is the relationship between the writer and the newspaper, especially for freelancers. Now people following me see the link to what I wrote and they have a choice to read it whether I write for The Guardian, Fox, Sports Illustrated or whoever. Previously they might just read The Guardian and they do not have a clue I wrote elsewhere. So it makes a writer more of a brand by himself rather than needing the newspaper, so that changed this relationship. It means that there's much more direct interaction between the writer and the reader than it used to be, which has upsides and downsides. If you make a mistake in a piece, you can correct it within seconds, because somebody will point to you and you can go and change it. If you're not sure about something you can ask the question, say: "Can anybody remember who put in a croos for this goal or can you remember the examples of players signed for clubs and being sold in a week". You can get very instant feedback, you find out what people like and don't like. You get people who will challenge your views and some of them do that in a good way, respectful and they actually have valuable points to make. And that's great because the more debate you have of appropriate level then the more astute your opinions will become, more sophisticated. It's always good to argue things through. The downsides is often you got a lot of abuse of people who didn't understand the piece or they're fan of particular club and they think you're attacking the club and they refuse to see anything beyond that. So there are pluses and minuses, but I don't think it's a matter of better or worse.

If you could pick eleven players to your team who played at Old Trafford in the last 15 years who would you pick?

- 4-2-3-1 Schmeichel - Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Irwin - Keane, Scholes - Ronaldo, Rooney, Giggs - Van Nistelrooy.

Tevez can't go ahead of Giggs, Beckham doesn't get in there. You obviously have a Solskjaer on the bench, obviously. Sheringham, Cole, Yorke... but they're not as good as Rooney and Van Nistelrooy, so yeah, let's stick with that.

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