It happens so often in any walk of life, but football is just so public that it really makes an impact.
There were many that eagerly awaited the start of Louis van Gaal’s tenure at Old Trafford, after all, he had been successful all over Europe and experience is not lacking with this high profile coach.
When you look at his CV, he has won three Dutch titles, the UEFA Cup, the Dutch Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the Champions League with Ajax. With Barcelona he won two Spanish titles, the UEFA Super Cup and a Copa del Rey. At AZ Alkmaar he won another Eredivisie title and then with Bayern Munich he won the league title, the German cup, the German Super Cup and reached the final of the Champions League. After all that he led the Netherlands national team to the 2014 World Cup, performing well in Brazil. If that wasn’t quite enough, Van Gaal has been named as manager of the year, coach of the year and so it goes on… This man is no idiot.
Clearly he has a pedigree and clearly he knows his football. Success has followed him around, but at United, the whole thing has changed and he has had a trophy-less 18 months. Expectation levels at the Old Trafford club are not up for negotiation, so when he took over from the short-lived David Moyes era, Manchester United fans were looking for more than they’ve been given.
What they have had is at least qualification for the Champions League, but that was over all too soon, and now they have the Europa League and Thursday night football to look forward to. The only other trophy, realistically speaking, that is up for grabs is the FA Cup, as the league now looks a speck on the horizon.
If we are very honest, Manchester United could be without any silverware for another season, and that will unsettle an already unhappy set of natives, but with Van Gaal being thought of as a top coach, where has it all fallen away?
If you watch United these days, the football as we know is monotonous, dull, uninspiring and frankly pedestrian in appearance. With no disrespect to teams like Norwich and Southampton, Manchester United at home should be winning these games at a canter, but times are a changing in the Premier League and clubs are buying better players for a start. His spending at United has been exorbitant, as over £200m has been splashed, but the club are seemingly no further forward. The January transfer window has come and gone with no arrivals. Was this the board saying – ‘Sorry Louis, but you’re not staying, so we are not buying in this window?’
And this is another point. United always attracted the top players. Playing for Manchester United was the ultimate achievement, but not anymore. With Sir Alex Ferguson retired, they cannot seem to fill transfer targets with enough desire to get them on a plane to Manchester airport. The players that are joining the club, in some cases, are absolute stars, but for some unexplainable reason, they are being played out of position or sat on the bench. Wayne Rooney isn’t the player he was, but then he’s out of position. Michael Carrick is an ageing star of the team and has had his fair share of injuries and none of this has helped Van Gaal, but he calls the shots. The buck stops with him.
It is also indicative of the Dutch way, that he comes across as slightly arrogant. He may not mean to, but in the press conferences of late, he has a manner, a demeanour that isn’t doing him any favours. He famously stated that the media have sacked him three times and then another piece of theatre was asking for an apology that never came. Whatever you do, keep the press onside, or they will kill you.
The knives aren’t exactly out for Van Gaal, but he is doing a grand job of driving a huge wedge between those that could support him or get him sacked. And he won’t get sacked.
He could walk at any time. He could decide tomorrow that enough is enough.
Van Gaal obviously thinks that his way is right. A strict disciplinarian, a knowledgeable, intelligent man that seems a tiny bit lost right now. He can see the end is coming, but he will see the season through now that Ed Woodward has bought him another bottle of excellent wine. In his personal life, he has suffered and with that type of suffering comes a change in any person.
However, under the bright lights of the media and all its available channels, his time will be seen as a failure.
For Manchester United, there is next season to plan for. Knowing that you neighbours have stolen a lead on you with a managerial target of your own – Pep Guardiola – means that the board will need to appoint a name to take over. The hierarchy at United don’t want to be seen as hirers and firers, but something needs to be done. With a limited choice, they will need experience and so Ryan Giggs will need to wait. Jose Mourinho is an option, but there are as many reasons to employ him as to pass him by. There is the outside chance that Van Gaal will stay, but it is thought to be unlikely. For the team, a new manager means an overhaul, and as Liverpool will be doing the same this coming summer, United’s entrance doors may be swinging back and forth, as players come and go. Interesting times ahead.
For LVG, it’s a sad note on which to end a managerial career. He has already said that retirement looms, but surely he hoped for more than this.