Cleat Geeks

The Good Ship ‘Louis Van Gaal’ Still Sailing Over Choppy Seas

In the space of 48 hours Manchester United played away at Stoke City and home to Chelsea resulting in one loss and one draw, accumulating 1 point from 6 in the process. United have now gone 8 games without a win, 4 of which they have lost. To say these are difficult times for the club, its supporters, its players and especially its manager is an understatement of seismic proportions.

Louis_van_Gaal_2911698bOn Boxing Day 2015 at Stoke City United looked like a team who had eaten too much turkey the previous day. 2-0 down inside the first 26 minutes there was never the sense that as a team they could turn it round. Given the hectic Christmas Premier League schedule United then played the champions Chelsea in what ordinarily might well have been a title defining match. Alas not this season, with Chelsea having the worst season ever as far as defending champions go and in the process of having just sacked Jose Mourinho and appointed Gus Hiddink as temporary manager.

In a week when media speculation about the future of Louis Van Gaal reached an all time high many doubted if he would be in charge when the Chelsea match took place. He was, however the speculation will not end overnight and it is time for the United board to announce publically if he is their man long term or not.

Van Gaal did not endear himself to the waiting press at his press conference last week. Asking for an apology regarding what has been written about him and his future at Old Trafford by the journalists and then directing them to wine and mince pies was perhaps not the quintessential role of a Manchester United manager. If the imaginary journalistic knives were not out against Chelsea, they were certainly being sharpened.

juanMata2Initially the response from the United team was good with Juan Mata hitting the bar from a long range effort showing the type of fighting spirit that has been absent of late. Anthony Martial saw his effort hit the post and roll along the goal line with no United player near for the tap in. At the other end David DeGea produced a fine save from a close in header from Chelsea captain John Terry. The game itself could and should have been decided by Nemanja Matic who was put through on goal but blasted his shot over the bar with DeGea beaten.

It would be wrong to assume that a 0-0 draw against the reigning champions has succeeded in quietning the discerning voices around Van Gaal. There is a strong sense around Manchester that a decision has already been reached about Van Gaal’s future and that it will be announced at the right time for manager and club.

While the club is one of the biggest financial cash cows when it comes to selling merchandise of all sorts round the world, on the pitch they are a shadow of the side they once were. For the owners, the Glazer family, this might not be too bad a predicament as they are not football people but rather investors in a global behemoth. The CEO, Ed Woodward is also more of a business man than a football supporter and if these are the roots of the present club any new manager might be sowing seeds on empty ground.

In their defence they have allowed Van Gaal to spend a quarter of a billion pounds in the 18 months he has been in charge and the club does not seem to have progressed under his management. So why are the supporters turning against the Dutchman and the jounalists getting ready to publish his football obituary.

In his first season Van Gaal’s mandate was to get United into the top four in the premier league and qualify for the Champions League. In truth this was the bare minimum and was seen as progress from coming seventh the previous year under David Moyes. In his first season also Van Gaal had to cope with an unimaginable injury list however there is less sympathy here because of the new training methods he employed.

Louis van GaalThis season should have been one of consolidation for United and Van Gaal, however it has been far from that and at times it has seemed clueless in the extreme. In letting so many proven players leave the club without finding better than average replacments it has shown an arrogance in the psyche of Van Gaal bordering on the absurd.

Van Gaal’s approach to man management fits the old cliche ‘its my way or the highway’. What is patently ridiculous for a club of United’s size is that at present they are relyng on an untried 20 year old to score the goals needed to progress the team up the league. Wayne Rooney, United’s other main striker has been absent without leave too often this season to be relied on.

It is however not only the players Van Gaal has left himself with it is also the type of football they are being asked or trained to play. It is souless and boring to watch, the highlight of which might be 30 passes sideways and backwards. United with this style of play dominate possession it is true but possession without an end product is the football equivalent of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’.

The fact that the premier league this season has been so unpredictable with average teams beating top teams and the likes of Leicester leading the way has helped Van Gaal. Had it been a year when the top teams and the reigning champions Chelsea were more focused then it might already be over for Van Gaal in his role as manager at Manchester United.

The clock seems to be ticking more loudly now for Van Gaal as United enter a period of both new and old possibilities. The premier league is still attainable should United go on a concerted run, the F A Cup 3rd Round tie against Sheffield United comes along on January 9th, followed closely by the ‘new ground’ of the Europa League.RooneyPraying

If United are to achieve success in any of these competitions they will need to find a way of winning which encompasses Van Gaal’s slow, methodical style. Wayne Rooney has to have a better second half of the season than the first and the likes of Memphis Depay, Mata, Martial and Jesse Lingard have to increase their goal tallies considerably.

The other possibility of course is that by the time of the F A Cup and Europa League arrive a new man will be at the helm of the United ship and that the good ship ‘Louis Van Gaal’ will have succumbed to the choppy seas around Salford Quays and been put into dry dock somewhere off the Dutch coast.

jim@1211plussubs

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