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The buying Dutchman . . . but value is tough to find

THE next few days have taken on extra significance for Louis van Gaal.

Louis van Gaal watches as United go down to a 4-0 defeat to MK Dons, 24 hours after he agreed to pay a British transfer record sum for Angel di Maria.Picture: Reuters
Louis van Gaal watches as United go down to a 4-0 defeat to MK Dons, 24 hours after he agreed to pay a British transfer record sum for Angel di Maria.Picture: Reuters

Like a disorganised husband dashing frantically around the shops on Christmas Eve, the Manchester United manager will spend what remains of the summer transfer window trying to add to his squad. It will probably not be the most pleasant of experiences.

If there is one constant on deadline day it is that the more evident the desperation, the higher the transfer fee, and United's need is greater than ever. Come late Monday evening those clubs with players in demand will be able to virtually name their price.

The verdict following the end of David Moyes' ill-fated and brief tenure at Old Trafford was that it ought to be easier for the man who follows the man who followed Sir Alex Ferguson. So far that hasn't looked the case. An opening-day home defeat by Swansea City, a draw at Sunderland and then the humilation of a 4-0 Capital One Cup loss to MK Dons on Tuesday night is how Van Gaal's reign has unfolded. In contrast, after three competitive games last season, Moyes was yet to taste defeat.

The cup loss, and in particular the comprehensive nature of it, should be cause for alarm. Despite not having European football to occupy them this year, Van Gaal chose to completely switch his squad. There seemed little need.

His starting line-up, however, still contained a number of experienced figures; David de Gea, Jonny Evans, Anderson, Shinji Kagawa, Danny Wellbeck, Javier Hernandez and Adnan Januzaj all had their reputations tarnished by association. It told Van Gaal that either his reserves are not up to the job or that their attitude is not what it should be. United, realistically only in contention for the two domestic cup competitions this season, found their prospects of silverware halved before August is out.

Van Gaal, though, barely seems troubled by what could kindly be called a slow start to the season. He is a single-minded individual and a patient one, too. His track record suggest he will find a way to make it work but for now it looks like he is simply muddling through. It has been a costly experiment of trial and error.

The squad that Moyes could not lift to greater things has so far not been upgraded in the manner it perhaps ought to have been.

So far it seems like adding go-faster stripes to a car that needs the engine replaced and a new gearbox installed. It could be considered a work in progress, and an expensive one at that.

United lost two central defenders in the summer, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, and have so far brought in one: Marcos Rojo, who can also feature at left-back. Given Van Gaal's current preference for a 3-5-2 formation it would seem to leave him light on central defensive options, and reliant on the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and the afore-mentioned Evans to provide steady and reliable form.

There has been no stinting on transfer fees. Rojo, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw were recruited for a total in the region of £70m, before United broke the British record by paying the very precise sum of £59.7m to bring Angel di Maria from Real Madrid. The Argentine was one of Madrid's most effective performers last season but it is still a costly outlay for just one player, especially when it will likely precipitate a tactical reshuffle to accommodate him after Van Gaal suggested he was not signing Di Maria to operate as a No.10.

Spending huge sums of money does not guarantee any player will deliver success - witness the return on the £27m United paid for Marouane Fellaini last summer or the £42m it cost Arsenal to lure Mesut Oezil from Madrid - and there will be huge pressure on Di Maria to perform and justify such an exorbitant price tag.

Chances are he won't be the last high-profile arrival at Old Trafford. Van Gaal has namedropped Arturo Vidal, the Juventus midfielder, at various points throughout the summer, while they have also been linked with Daley Blind of Ajax, Madrid's Sami Khedira and the Borussia Dortmund pair of Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan.

The pursuit of Vidal, in particular, makes sense with United lacking dynamism in the central midfield areas for quite some time now. The Chilean has struggled with injuries but the proposed £30m transfer fee may prove a worthwhile investment.

Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, has made it clear money will be no obstacle although the lack of time before the window closes and no European football could yet work against United as they look to attract players among the elite of European football.

It is difficult to know what would constitute success for United this season. There are few regarding them as serious contenders to challenge Manchester City and Chelsea for the Barclays Premier League title, but a top-four finish, and with it the golden ticket back into the Champions League, will surely be the least expected.

An FA Cup run would also go some way to atone for such a meek capitulation in the League Cup. Van Gaal will probably be given time to make his changes, presumably more time than Moyes was afforded last season. Early signs, though, are that the rebuilding job could take longer than expected.

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