Cleat Geeks

Gary Neville, Louis Van Gaal and ‘Unpredictabilty’

Football or soccer as it is called in the USA like all sports can make fools of all who claim inside knowledge of the game. A case in point this week is the former Manchester United fullback and former Sky football pundit Gary Neville. Neville a big hit on Monday Night Football on Sky television always seemed to know exactly what had gone wrong when assessing a team’s performance.

New Valencia CF head coach Gary Neville. Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

New Valencia CF head coach Gary Neville. Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

It has to be said that Neville took to being a Sky pundit like the proverbial duck to water. During his time at Sky, Neville built up a large following and a large reputation offering both half time and full time analysis of particular televised matches and his thoughts on football in general. Erudite, confident and a breath of fresh air after the Mr Keyes and Mr Gray catastrophe, the television studio must have seemed like a second home to Mr Neville.

All that changed around four months ago when Neville decided, to the amazement of “those in the know”, to leave the safety of the television gantry and ply his trade in soccer management. Another surprise was the name of the team he was going to manage, Valencia, in the Spanish division. It helped presumably that Neville knew some of the people at the club and that his brother Phil Neville was in situ, nevertheless it was a brave move on his part.

ValenciaWhat was without a doubt however was that it would not be easy for Neville as he embarked on his first managerial post going in at the deep end, so to speak. Sadly yesterday Gary Neville’s time at Valencia was up, he was sacked because of the club’s poor form under his management and the looming fear of relegation. Can Neville return back to his Sky home and resume his elite status as a pundit having now failed at what might be called the real job. Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe he has no interest in returning behind the camera at all. As I remarked football (soccer) is a great leveller and can make fools of us all.

One job he will not be lined up for just yet, if ever, is manager at his former club, Manchester United. At the moment and using the analogy that “your only as good as your last game”, Louis Van Gaal is sitting pretty. The last game for his team was a 1-0 win away at Manchester City and although unexpected it was indeed as welcome as Christmas presents in December.

MUvsEvertonThe win however was over a week ago and the premier league battles commence once more for Manchester United on Sunday 3rd April with a home match against Everton. Van Gaal has now a clear run of eight games to the end of the season (excluding the FA Cup) when he and the world at large will know if his second season has ended in relative success or outright failure.

Relative success for Van Gaal will be seen in United finishing in the top four and winning the FA Cup. Outright failure will be United missing out on a top four place and for some, still winning the FA Cup, everything is relative these days. The last eight games in Manchester United’s troubled season are as follows:

Everton (home)
Tottenham (away)
Aston Villa (home)
Crystal Palace (home)
Leicester City (home)
Norwich (away)
West Ham (away)
Bournemouth (home)

Given these fixtures, it may be just as well that United have five at home and only three away. However given the paucity of goals at Old Trafford this season that might not be a positive after all.

As can be seen from the fixture list the first match after the enforced International break will be against Everton at Old Trafford on Sunday, kick off 4pm UK time. Perhaps this match will give some kind of gauge to the ones that follow because management and players know there is no more room for error chasing a top four position.

believeStrangely this season United have played better against sides at the top of the premiership table and performed worse against those teams in the lower half. A quick glance at the remaining fixtures shows that United, unfortunately, play lower tier sides in the main for their season run in. It would be foolish to predict which way the games will eventually turn out, however given United’s form over the season it would not be a surprise if they won eight, lost eight or drew the eight remaining fixtures.

As Gary Neville contemplates his next move and Louis Van Gaal his next eight matches, the randomness of the game of football ( soccer), especially the end of a season games, is not lost on manager, players and supporters alike. Let the final round of premiership league games begin for the eventual victors and vanquished alike, whoever that will be.

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