Cleat Geeks

Rudyard’s Kipling Poem “If” Should Be Louis Van Gaal’s New Mantra

If Louis Van Gaal needed any inspiration for his present plight he need look no further that the opening verse of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”.rudyard-kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

(c) Rudyard Kipling

Van Gaal should have the whole poem pinned up on all the four walls of his office instead of an oversized picture of himself on the wall behind his desk. Why? For the simple reason that his job and his ego are very much on the line, one might even say hanging by a thread.

Van Gaal knew that only a win at Manchester City on Sunday March 20th would keep Manchester United at least nominally in touch with the top four places in the Premier League. Although there is a possibility that United might win the FA Cup if they survive the 6th round replay at West Ham United, it is doubtful winning the FA Cup will save his position at the club.

On Sunday morning most of the British press were reporting that his adversary Jose Mourinho had signed a pre-contract agreement to become the next United manager in the summer. This is a strange animal indeed and if it is true already heralds the possible end of Van Gaal’s two year occupancy.

Jose-Mourinho (1)According to reports from Spain, Mourinho has agreed to wait and not take up any offers from other clubs for the time being at least. However the report suggests if Mourinho is not employed by June 1st 2016, should United decide against his employment, he could receive around $15 million pounds in compensation for ‘waiting’. If any proof was needed that the game has gone completely mad, surely this is it.

Whether the reports are true or not, Van Gaal and his United team need to finish in the top four to qualify for the Champions League. Third place would be better because there would be no need to qualify in an earlier round, however third place seems highly unlikely at the moment.

As United approached the Manchester Derby against City this time defeat was not an option, not that any defeat in a derby is acceptable. United once again had youth in their first eleven needing to play the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial up front because of injuries to their main striking options. City was depleted especially at the back with injuries to some of their key defenders, one being their best player Vincent Kompany.

The game itself started well for United but as with any derby the tension and the occasion put extra charge in the atmosphere. When Sergio Aguero turned Chris Smalling around like a spinning top the United defender once again looked short of the nous to play in the central defensive position.

ChrisSmallingSmalling has developed the annoying habit of grabbing the shirt of the opponent when he is outpaced, and especially in the penalty area. He is not alone in this of course however Smalling lacks the subtlety or guile of more experienced defenders and looks ham fisted at the very least.

United seemed to have upped their game from the disappointment of losing to Liverpool in the Europa Cup match only three days before.
It was Rashford who made the all important breakthrough in the 16th minute when a through ball allowed him to avoid the lunging tackle of Martin Demichelis and slip the ball around the oncoming Joe Hart into the City net. Demichelis looked off the pace and cumbersome the whole match and was substituted in the second half.

Shortly before half time Demichelis bundled over Rashford in the penalty area that, according to the watching TV pundits, should have been a penalty. However the officiating referee Michael Oliver took a more lenient view of the ‘barge’ and allowed play to go on. Oliver is a very good referee however like other referees he is prone to make decisions that often baffle the watching supporters.

In the second half City took more control of the game with Augero hitting the post with a header. The same player chose to head across goal when free on the left side of the penalty area when it seemed he had a good chance to score. City huffed and puffed for the rest of the game but never really looked like levelling the score. While United only created the odd chance in the second half it was in the end Rashford’s goal which decided the match, earning the accoloade of the youngest Manchester born player to score a goal in the Manchester derby in premiership history.

Before he was substituted Demichelis returned a pass back to Hart which left the goalkeeper in a one on one race with Martial for the ball. Although Hart got to the ball first in kicking the ball out of Martial’s path he sustained an injury and needed to be taken off.

After the match Van Gaal as expected was ebullient and professed his belief that United now had a good chance of reaching their goal of a top four finish. It is not inconceivable that City, on this performance, might not finish in the top four at the end of the season, giving their new manager in the wings, Pep Guardiola, the unlikely scenario of Europa League football.

While United are now right back in the race for one of the top positions it is still a sad indictment on the club that finishing in the top four is considered a success. For Van Gaal however it will be a major achievement and it might also afford him the chance to remain for his third and final year as the club’s manager, pre-contract agreement or no pre-contract agreement, Mourinho or no Mourinho.

Yet the happy pill of success should not be taken as a complete cure for the ailments of the football club. There have been many false dawns this season when United seemed to have turned the corner only to flounder once again. While United has an impressive record against the top clubs in the division they have come up short against lesser sides and that still has to be a concern of Van Gaal.Manchester-United-vs-Everton

There is now a short break in the premiership matches because of various International friendlies taking place across Europe. United’s next match is on Sunday April 3rd when they play Everton at Old Trafford. Van Gaal therefore has lots of time to ponder ‘what if’ or just ‘if’ his team can achieve their aim of Champions League qualification this season.

Van Gaal also has time to read or reread Kipling’s poem, especially the lines, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you”, and return fully charged for the final act of this premiership session.

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