Supposedly, you can only really measure failure by expectation.
Chancellor George Osbourne has failed to sort out the British economy – according to Labour backbenchers at least – because he was expected to make bigger cuts to the nation’s deficit. The latest series of the X factor was a failure because it drew in its smallest ever audience, despite expecting to kick on from last year’s figures. I undoubtedly failed at my attempts to master the piano because I spent/wasted two years of my pre-secondary school years getting to the dizzy heights of a grade one pass, before packing it in altogether.
If you aim low, you’ll struggle to really fail. But given power and influence in a pressurised role, the chances of regressing into a downward spiral of failure are all the greater.
This is the role that Louis Van Gaal waltzed into in July, after an impressive World Cup with the Netherlands. What were the expectations from the Manchester United board when they appointed him to the helm of Britain’s biggest club this summer?
Armed with an enviable budget of £150m and the full backing of the club’s entire board, they would have undoubtedly expected – at the bare minimum – for the club to have kicked on from the abyss that David Moyes’ tenure descended into. Yet after United’s defeat to Southampton last week, the club had at that point made an identical start to the season. This surely must be classed as a failure – and yet it would seem this failure has been masked.
The New Zealand national rugby team has won the Rugby World Cup twice since the tournaments birth in 1987, but for a generation of teams so profoundly superior to it’s contemporaries, that outcome has arguably been a national sporting failure. The Wealdstone Raider launched a ludicrous Christmas single and ploughed a huge social media, merchandise-driven, nightclub touring campaign into it; only to come fifth in the seasonal glamour charts.
Louis Van Gaal, like them, has so far masked his inadequacies with a boyish, stubborn, and churlish charisma that has benefited from a differing context of league permutations. If a reporter – or a 600 million strong global fanbase – questions his rational and his overall thinking, they’re met with this sharpened outward edge. We get it, Louis, you’re the boss – but there comes a point where there seems to be an over-arching autocratic decision making process in place, devoid of outward input.
This time last year, Moyes was undoubtedly operating in a more competitive league. Liverpool and Rodgers were coming into their own. Mourinho and Pelligrini were no slouches in getting the country’s two best clubs off to consistent starts. Arsenal had their best start to a domestic season for years.
If Van Gaal was operating in last years league, United would be seventh right now on their current points tally. The fact that they’ve stayed within the top four – their primary goal for the season – despite a fairly average start, has allowed people to keep faith in his reign.
And he’s done all of this while tampering with the fundamental principles of the club. Adnan Januzaj has stalled, Danny Welbeck was cast aside for a misfiring Radamel Falcao. Granted, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair have been given chances, but that was only at a last resort when the most devastating of injury crises beset his squad.
For now, the arrogance of Van Gaal will continue to resist those external pressures. His consistent record of being remarkably strong in the second half of domestic seasons leaves him in good stead.
But if the competition increases and his team slip, the mask will fall. The media will jump. The cracks will be exposed.
The next month will be a big one for the Dutchman, because if the failure becomes obvious, then those expectations will demote him down to Moyes’ level. And that would certainly be interesting to see.