As much as Manchester United needed to sack David Moyes after the disaster of this season, it couldn’t have happened in a worse year.
There’s no getting around the idea that last summer was the time to appoint a top manager. Carlo Ancelotti, who may yet be moved on from Real Madrid, though increasingly unlikely after his side’s performance over two legs against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, was there for the taking. Similarly, Jose Mourinho, bringer of ‘anti-football’ though successful nevertheless, couldn’t hide his interest in Alex Ferguson’s job. Laurent Blanc was up for grabs, too, if United were after a manager who knew the club. Importantly, United weren’t burdened with the feeling of trepidation at having made a recent mistake on the managerial front.
This time, they must get it right. They must restore order and a winning mentality. The charitable nature of United at Old Trafford this season needs to be done away with and teams need to genuinely fear the current reigning champions. Crucially, the players need to fear and respect the man chosen to replace David Moyes.
Ryan Giggs is the sentimental choice, but the wrong one. There’s an ease and familiarity about what may come with the Welshman in the dugout, but this isn’t a time for gambles of that nature.
Instead, Louis van Gaal looks the most likely candidate. United were ambiguous in their statement on the weekend that nothing was signed between the club and the Dutchman. Nothing has been signed, OK, but there may be an agreement? Talk of Patrick Kluivert assisting the current Netherlands coach allows us to assume so.
But van Gaal will be caught up in the World Cup, unavailable until sometime in July and seemingly a world away in Brazil. The mistakes of the short-lived Moyes Era was that the club dithered, looked lost, missed out on excellent players in the market, particularly in midfield, and ended up with something they certainly didn’t need and likely didn’t want.
This summer, the overhaul is set to be huge. At the very least, United need three defenders. The fact that they’ve only scored 60 goals in the league at this stage (Liverpool have 96, Manchester City have 93) more than suggests added firepower is needed. But where is the figure to lead that campaign in the market?
Van Gaal knows the market, he knows what he likes and where to find them. If he is set to become United manager, he’ll more than likely lean on the rich-in-talent German market. But if left to him, United may only get their first major piece of business done by August. Clubs know this is a team who are desperate and willing to spend. There’ll be no easy ride.
The positive, though a small one, is the expertise at securing Juan Mata from Chelsea in January. Reportedly, United’s communications with Chelsea was kept at a distance and indirect, thus avoiding a discussion on Wayne Rooney. Ed Woodward, equally culpable for the tone-setting summer last year, may be learning the ropes quickly if we look to the signing of Mata, but the difficulty of this summer’s operation will dwarf that of landing the Spanish midfielder.
Do United need a director of football? It wouldn’t go amiss. This may be a club who end up appointing a small handful of managers over the next few years before they land on one who is set to be a mainstay in the United dugout for a prolonged spell – and that’s only if we accept United’s ideal of wanting consistency and stability; modern football may not allow for it.
A director of football – maybe Woodward, the title isn’t as important as effectiveness in the role – will allow the club to buy and sell without having to rely on a manager. This summer, it would be extremely useful. Develop a dialogue with van Gaal while he’s in Brazil; you’d assume the club wouldn’t be so naïve as to hold off on first contact until after the tournament. So gather an understanding of what the manager wants and needs.
In all of this, you really struggle to ignore the negligence of allowing both Ferguson and David Gill to move on without one bedding in the other’s successor.
But for now the worry is that United still look leaderless on that front. It’s not just in finding an individual to take on the job, it’s in finding an individual who is capable of getting the job done and avoiding humiliations that led to no-goes with both Cesc Fabregas and Ander Herrera.