Cleat Geeks

Albert Einstein, Insanity and Louis Van Gaal

Albert Einstein once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”. There is no proof, as far as I know, that the good old professor ever supported a soccer team, but he would definitely have been a prime candidate for one. Perhaps appropriately ‘Eggheads United’ would have appealed to him, or maybe ‘E=MC2 Rovers’.


Soccer fans in general (including Manchester United supporters) have a ridiculous affection for the men who kick the round ball around. To support this I offer the banner often seen at Old Trafford heralding ‘United, kids, wife’ in that order and I fear that for some supporters, it means exactly what it says.

Notice I said the men who kick the round ball around, not the manager who trains the men to kick the round ball, around. I would argue for most teams the manager, as long as he is doing his job correctly, basks in the glory of his team. There are some managers of course whose ego’s always seems bigger that the club they manage, into that bracket you can put Louis Van Gaal. You might also add Jose Mourinho, who for some people would be Van Gaal’s successor sooner rather than later.

At this present moment Van Gaal is seen by some as a ‘dead man walking’, or a bit of a ‘lame duck manager’ and both of these terms seem appropriate. Be that as it may if the latest news to come out of Old Trafford is correct Van Gaal has no intention of quitting.

Last weekend it was rumoured that Van Gaal had offered his resignation to Ed Woodward the executive vice-chairman, and that Woodward advised Van Gaal to think about it a little longer. There were also newspaper reports that this was not the first time Van Gaal has offered to resign from the club and been turned down.

On Saturday 23rd January after a late strike by Charlie Austin gave Southampton a 1-0 win at Old Trafford Van Gaal (and his team) left the field to a chorus of boos. Van Gaal also had to walk past a series of hand gestures that to my knowledge have not been aimed at a United manager in public before. Even David Moyes at his lowest ebb was spared the vocabulary and gesticulations from what seems on television at least to be an angry mob wanting a public hanging.


After the match Van Gaal was seen at Manchester Airport catching a plane to Holland and for some this was proof positive that the rumours of his resignation were true. However, as it turned out, this dash to Holland was an officially planned break so that Van Gaal could attend his daughter’s birthday party and the players could get two days off training. It just looked bad and was bad timing coming after United’s lackluster performance against Southampton where they only managed one shot on target in 93 minutes.

When Van Gaal returned he made it plain that he had not offered to resign and that he had no intention of resigning. Having put the matter straight he took charge of training at Carrington for Friday’s FA Cup 4th Round away match at Derby County.

Whether the rumours of his offer to resign are true or not Van Gaal is at a cross roads in his career, if he were a car you could almost say he can’t get out of first gear. Eighteen months into a job that for someone of Van Gaal’s pedigree should have been plain sailing or at least achievable, his team seemingly have no desire, confidence or old fashioned gumption to change things on the pitch. Much like the ill fated Titanic they seem to be on a collision course that will end in disaster.

It has to be said that the players are culpable to an extent when they are out on the field of play. No one in their ranks seems able to ‘grab the game by the scuff of the neck’ as the saying goes like some United players of the past e.g. Roy Keane, Bryan Robson or even Nobby Stiles.

Yet it also needs to be said that if the team are playing the way Van Gaal orders them to play then at the present time there is no excuse for the United manager. It does seem from all that Van Gaal has said since his arrival the team are playing his way, which is not at all surprising.

In his arrogance he has decided that his way of playing is the only way of playing even though it palpably is not working. Van Gaal’s reign of office has turned a squad of players, who come out with appropriate soundbites after poor performances, into a shambles on the pitch. United are offering up to their supporters some of the worst performances they have in years and their patience seems finally to have cracked.

After a lucky win at Liverpool the Old Trafford hierarchy tried to convince the football world that United were still premier league title contenders. After the defeat to Southampton the truth, always a bitter pill to swallow when mixed with delusion, is that they are no where near that objective. Now in 5th place in the table, five points behind a Tottenham team who are playing very well, qualification for next season’s Champions League must now be in doubt.

Given the speculation surrounding Van Gaal it seems unlikely that he will see out the final year of his contract which runs to 2017 and so it is decision time for the United board.

Should the board conversely opt to stick with Van Gaal there is serious doubt that United will reach the ‘pot of gold’ known at the Champions League next season, never mind winning a trophy this season, and if that happens then there is a chance that investor revenue will be less forthcoming, which for a club like United is anathema.

Should they opt to sack Van Gaal then they are left with the question of who should take over the management of the club, either short term or long term and the two most obvious candidates at the moment are Ryan Giggs and Jose Mourinho.

Where Giggs will give a certain continuity to the club, he is vastly inexperienced and must therefore be seen as a gamble and even if he was offered the post till the end of the season it would still be a huge risk.

Mourinho on the other hand is a serial winner but he has not endeared himself to some of the United board with his antics and behaviour over the years. It is rumoured (that word again) that Mourinho is desperate to take on the role of manager of Manchester United and that he would be willing to be more adaptable, whatever that means.



One other option is for Van Gaal to change his style of play and encourage the team to be more fast, direct and attacking in their game. If that happened Van Gaal might save his illustrious career from ending up with a whimper.
That however is up to Van Gaal and so far he has shown little sign of change either in his style of play or his personal demeanour.

Maybe Einstein was right when he defined insanity, maybe it is too late for Van Gaal to change and more of the same from his team will be the order of the day. For Van Gaal the importance of the F A Cup match at Derby County on Friday cannot be overstated, otherwise more rumours and rumours of rumours will circulate once again and perhaps this time lead to terminal decline.


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