Vincent O’Shea looks at the reasons as to why Louis van Gaal has managed to stay on at the Manchester United helm despite continuous poor performances as well as the overall strategy of decision makers like Ed Woodward and co. within the United boardroom.
“I’m very disappointed that I cannot reach the expectations of the fans. They have – or they had – great expectations of me, and I cannot fulfil them, so I am very frustrated because of that.”
This is what Louis van Gaal said after that awful performance against Southampton at the weekend, basically admitting he cannot do his job. Anyone in any profession on the planet would be sacked or resign if they said that, but not in the land of Manchester United where the grass is blue and the sky is green. Apparently, LVG offered to resign after the Saints clash, only to be talked out of it by Ed Woodward; further infuriating a large contingent of United’s support.
The truth is that Van Gaal should have gone after the 2-1 home defeat to Norwich just before Christmas. The ringing of boos around Old Trafford on Saturday was deafening and reached a level unseen in the history of the club. The fans demand a change of manager and they deserve a lot better than the dross that Van Gaal’s team is serving up, which they spend their hard-earned cash on to watch every week.
An embarrassing display against Stoke followed the Norwich game but Van Gaal still limped on. He was able to slightly paper over the cracks with some better results. However, United still could not beat a very poor Chelsea side while they scraped past a struggling Swansea, and it took a last-minute penalty to see off League One Sheffield United. Despite an improved attacking display against Newcastle, they still dropped points as a result of defensive lapses while a fortunate 1-0 win at Anfield really should be seen as no more than that against an average Liverpool side.
Van Gaal has been catapulted back down to reality as his side crashed to a 1-0 defeat against the Saints. The bizarre decision to bring on Adnan Januzaj and play him at left-back justly cost Van Gaal in the end as he gave away the foul that led to Austin’s winner. Van Gaal was rumored to have offered his resignation around the Christmas period, but it was turned away as Woodward showed faith in him. That would not surprise many if the story was true. Van Gaal has looked and sounded like a defeated man who is waiting to be put out of his misery, despite flashes of his defiant attitude being shown towards the media. He only has himself to blame.
The sleep-inducing style of football is clearly not working but Van Gaal is stubborn and that will not change any time soon while the Dutchman remains in charge. He is an old man who cannot help but stick to old tricks. The game has moved on since Van Gaal’s glory days with Ajax and his style of football feels out of date, especially in the Premier League. The 64-year-old is past his sell-by date as a manager.
Perhaps the thing that has cost him the most is his summer transfer activity, and from the end of the transfer window he was always leaving himself with an uphill struggle considering the small squad size he left himself with. He let go of Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie for understandable reasons but the issue is they were not replaced.
Anthony Martial is going to be a great player for the future but as a result of United’s striker shortage, they have left themselves struggling to score or create goals, which is the key issue with this team. Wayne Rooney has hit a purple patch recently but they cannot depend on him as he is not the Rooney of old.
Van Gaal has complained about injuries all season but he should have a bigger squad to provide more cover. Defensively, United have been hit the hardest at various points in the season including when they got dumped out of the Champions League against Wolfsburg and lost to Bournemouth a few days later.
Van Gaal has forced himself into having to play youth players in big games that they are clearly not ready for. He has not even attempted to rectify the problem during the January transfer window so far, with Europa League Thursday nights coming up, the squad will be stretched to the limits again.
The fans want Van Gaal out, the players would be happy to see the back of him and even Van Gaal has accepted he has failed yet the board stick by their man for reasons many people would love to know. Sacking the Dutchman would be a start but it would not solve all the problems at the club, which run up to the highest level.
Woodward has proved himself to be largely incompetent at his job; he has no football knowledge. His strengths lie on the commercial side of the club by obtaining money-spinning sponsorship deals with noodle companies, for which he undoubtedly gives himself a nice pat on the back while he leaks to the papers that United are targeting the likes of Neymar just to try keep the fans onside. The Glazers will be satisfied as long as they are making money and could not give much care to the football side of things unless it ultimately costs them money.
The issue seems to be that Old Trafford is in the middle of a power struggle. It is clear that Woodward will be extremely reluctant to sack Van Gaal as he is the man he has appointed. Woodward would be admitting in this course of action to his own failure, something he will try everything to avoid. If Van Gaal was dismissed, it may well be that Jose Mourinho would be Woodward’s first choice but there is very much a split opinion inside Old Trafford about the Portuguese manager.
Who is on the opposite side of the coin? Well, that’s Ryan Giggs. Sir Alex Ferguson’s influence has waned at United but he remains a looming presence at the club and one can imagine Giggs would be Ferguson’s first choice along with the Class of ’92. It may well be the case that Woodward does not want to lose his power at the club, which sacking Van Gaal could do.
Giggs is a club legend and fans may approve of his appointment in order to bring the club back to its roots. However, it would be a major gamble and it is one that United cannot afford to take. Giggs is not ready and certainly does not have the experience to rebuild the club.
It would be a different story if he came in to take charge of a ready-made successful team. This is why Mourinho is the man for the job – even if he comes with his flaws, he virtually guarantees success. The truth is United will never have moved on from the Ferguson era until they win a few trophies again, which Mourinho could bring.
These are worrying times for Manchester United supporters, where everything the club does makes little sense. In the middle of the chaos, Van Gaal somehow continues to limp on.
Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena
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