West Ham boss Sam Allardyce, with tongue firmly in cheek you imagine, labelled Louis van Gaal’s side as “long ball United” on Sunday.
Manchester United are second only to Burnley in the table of long passes played in the Premier League so far.
Van Gaal produced a dossier yesterday to dispute the claims, and Clarets boss Sean Dyche similarly laughed off the tag ahead of tonight’s meeting at Old Trafford.
Dyche, as he often explains, is a pragmatist, and an exponent of mixed football - taking his lead from the United sides under Sir Alex Ferguson.
He laughed it off as “Longball-gate” and said: “I find it incredible, the whole thing. I think back to my youth and a player who was renowned for passing was Glenn Hoddle. Was he renowned for playing five and 10 yard passes. No he wasn’t!
“Ronald Koeman. Was he renowned for it? No he wasn’t. He was marvelled at.
“I am looking at Man United’s team and looking at their group of players and I think they are capable of playing the ball more than five or 10 yards and probably with some style.
“We are not questioning whether they are a long ball side or not.
“I like progressive football. I want football to be exciting, I want it to be exciting for the crowd and I want football that wins.”
Van Gaal himself labelled Burnley as a direct side ahead of the 0-0 draw at Turf Moor earlier this season, but Dyche added: “I have said it for a year or two now, Keiran Trippier is one of the finest passers of the ball I have seen in a long time. Why would I take away the chance of him to see a pass?
“I just wouldn’t.
“We have changed many ways this season to try and effect games.
“In some games we have to be direct because that’s a necessity to win a game and affect a game, and in other games we have passed it through the thirds and got it out wide.
“If I am thinking like that, I can’t see why any other manager isn’t thinking like that.”
There seems almost a snobbery about a long pass on the back of Barcelona and Spain’s success in recent years, but Dyche feels it is foolish to take that option away from a team: “We all know what this long ball game implies. Apparently a long pass isn’t the same thing. “I am not here to question Lous van Gaal or Manchester United, they are a fine club. I am just giving my opinion on what I think is appropriate for us and an opinion on the slightly bigger picture of
this kind of long ball-gate.
“I am not trying to make a dig anyone, just a bit of honour out of a semi-serious situation.
“I think there are so many good technicians at this level of football. I personally, would use as many tools as those players have got.
“I am looking at high-class international footballers and if they can’t play a longer pass, I don’t know what they’re doing at this level.
“That’s what it is, it’s longer passes at this level. I don’t get the debate.
“I don’t see it with Manchester United. At times if they felt it was appropriate to get the ball forward quickly, you have to find a way of opening up the opposition.
“There are teams trying to pass through five in midfield and when you think about it common sensically, why would you pass through five when there is only four at the back and usually your two best players are up that end?
“I think it’s really exaggerated the whole thing and because it’s Man United it makes it a bigger story.”
And he pointed to Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez as managers not scared of going more direct to win games: “My personal view is that if it can be pretty - fantastic. If it needs to get ugly when it needs it, the art is still to win a game.
“One thing I know is that fans want excitement.
“Sometimes you see fantastic passing football but it’s very slow and methodical and you think ‘do I want to watch that every week all season?’.
“I am not sure that all fans would want to watch that.
“I think Mourinho’s side, when they first won the championship, about 55 % of goals involved a longer pass over 25m.
“It was played around the back, into Terry, into Drogba, he chests it down, plays it into midfioeld and then it goes wide and one of the wide men knock it in, and guess who’s there? Frank Lampard - thanks very much.
“That was still classed as good, progressive football, exciting and winning.
“And Benitez said: ‘It’s not the long or short of ball, it’s having the ability to know when to play which.”