Tag Archives: louis van gaal

Bring The Pain

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“And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…” Sheesh, I wish. It’s still only February though, so we’ve got another 12 weeks of this absolute horror show to witness. The latest debacle in the ever lengthening list of debacles is (checks Google for spelling) FC Midtjylland. Anyone else heard of this bunch? No, me neither. Anyway they battered us. Of course they did – I mean, why wouldn’t they?

A few months back I decided to purge my life of a Sky Sports/BT subscription and invest in one of those little Android streaming box gizmos instead. It’s a pretty nifty bit of kit to be fair, as long as you prepare yourself for the fact that it only works 80% of the time and accept that some games are like watching the action in a strobe-lit blizzard… c/w 30 second pauses and a US commentary team. Given the current state of United, this can actually work out quite well. You end up missing at least 15 minutes of the game by messing about looking for a working link, and the regular pauses in play are often indistinguishable from watching the game at normal speed.

Anyway, last night was one of those occasions where I struggled to find a reliable stream, but the bits of the game I did see almost defied belief. To put it in perspective, the opposition were in the middle of their winter break and hadn’t played for 2 months – and had enjoyed only 1 win in 10 games before that. The Danish league, with no disrespect intended, probably files somewhere alongside Scotland in the ranks of Europe’s finest. United meanwhile, are slap bang in the middle of a campaign playing in what’s alleged to be the most competitive league in the world. Regardless of form or injuries then, this was as close to a ‘David v Goliath’ fixture as you’re ever going to find in European football.

Even allowing for a deflected, breakaway goal or an inexplicable defensive lapse, you would still have expected the obvious differences in fitness and match sharpness to be the Danes’ undoing. Point being that even if the ‘inferior’ opposition managed to land a few early body blows, fatigue would eventually set in allowing the gulf in class to become apparent. After all, despite a lengthy injury list, United still managed to put out a starting team containing 8 internationals. It should have been more than enough to despatch a team of minnows beaten 9-1 on aggregate by Napoli a few months back.

If only. Instead, it was another of those occasions where United completely failed to assert any kind of dominance on proceedings. For a team that sets out to play a low-risk, possession football, it’s absolutely remarkable how bad we are at doing the simple things like passing 6 yards and controlling the ball. If we could hold onto it for more than 10 seconds, the determination to rack up 10,000 passes per game might start to make some sense – but we are consistently useless at doing the basics. All this, combined with the clear lack of desire, spirit, belief… everything you need to be even moderately successful… well, it just isn’t there anymore. Whatever we had, we’ve lost it completely.

The weirdest thing in all this, is that no matter how badly things continue to unravel, it’s looking increasingly likely that Van Gaal won’t be sacked before the end of the season. Now whilst I don’t think he’s in possession of photos of certain board members in compromising positions, that possibility can’t be ruled out either. Seriously though, for all the criticism Woodward and his cohorts have faced over the last few months, surely it’s now clear that this hasn’t worked out as envisaged? I know Ed’s formative football years were spent leading the youth firm of Chelmsford City during breaks from boarding school, but there’s also a semi-competent business mind lurking beneath those pinched features of his.

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So why hasn’t Van Gaal been binned yet? Is there a full-on civil war taking place in the OT corridors of power as has been alluded to elsewhere? It’s a juicy story, yes – but the idea doesn’t quite add up. Are a section of the board really so Machiavellian that they’d attempt to dissuade the Glazer’s from making overtures towards Mendes re: Mourinho? Either based on a personal grudge or some deranged attempt to preserve Fergie’s legacy and keep the Co92 axis in place. 3 years ago the Glazers may well have listened if he and Sir Bobby were indeed making such noises, but after 3 seasons of Mogadon-tasting decline, it’s clear that any attempts at continuity – appointing a proto-Fergie in the shape of Moyes or priming Giggs as a long-term successor under the ageing Van Gaal – have flopped spectacularly.

Although Fergie and Gill still have a voice, and no doubt the ear of the Glazers, it’s still Ed and Dickie Arnold who are running the show day to day. Truth is, I find it hard to believe that the next manager of United hasn’t already been lined up and all parties have simply taken a vow of silence for the time being – namely in some well-meaning attempt to spare Van Gaal the indignity of the sack before a cosy ‘mutual agreement’ is reached at the end of the season. For all Woodward’s mistakes, and there have been numerous, I’m still soft enough to assume he’s quietly been making calls over the last couple of months, and not simply sat on his hands expecting to see his faith in Van Gaal rewarded eventually.

Now hang on a minute, this is more like it. As I’m writing, there’s news emerging that Mourinho to United could actually be a done dealio. Moratti’s sister has just rolled out of some dinner with Jose and worded the Italian press that he’s on his way to OT next season. Now she could be wumming them, just as he could be wumming her – but the noises are getting louder from pretty much every source in existence barring the club itself.

If it did transpire we were turning Portuguese next season, then I’ve no idea whatsoever if the appointment would prove to be successful or not. Mourinho’s last two gigs have ended on a sour note for a manager who’d previously thrived on forming close alliances his senior players. He is difficult (paranoid, monstrous ego, arrogant, capable of being a complete bellend) in much the same way that Ferguson was difficult and Van Gaal is difficult. However, in evaluating the current state of United, it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that we’re in desperate need of something, more precisely someone, to extricate us from this mire we find ourselves in.

C’mon Ed, don’t let us down here. It’s time…

Copyright Red News – February 2016

www.rednews.co.uk

Let Me Sleep Beside You

FOOTBALL:  FA CUP THIRD ROUND MATCH:  BOURNEMOUTH BEAT MANCHESTER UNITED 2-0.

After writing here last month in an indignant, post-Bournemouth strop, I was clinging to the hope that this season’s nadir had been reached. I mean, with the greatest of respect to Bournemouth, they are Bournemouth. It’s the land of blue rinses, retirement homes and tinfoil FA Cups… sort-of a posh, southern version of Southport or somewhere. Manchester United should not be going to places like Bournemouth and getting beaten more than once in a lifetime. But we are. That’s what we’ve become.

Things did get worse, however. Not content with wrecking weekends with alarming regularity, United then contrived to try and ruin Christmas too. Norwich at home, Stoke away… wretched performance following wretched performance. In the midst of this, the new Star Wars film was released and provided some brief, unexpected respite. I took my lad to Parrs Wood on the opening weekend and it was almost baffling how enjoyable it proved… 2 hours of pure, unadulterated entertainment and escapism. I’ve always been firmly against the idea of big screens at the match but if they could show that (or similar) during the game as an alternative to suffering the football, then it could make visits to OT tolerable again in the short-term.

As I’ve alluded to previously, the problem is only partly due to results. The team is being rebuilt, so we don’t expect to win every game and we certainly aren’t expecting to be winning titles any time soon. The lack of invention, the negative tactics, the safety first mentality… these are what feel like an affront and are the source of the all-consuming malaise that envelopes OT at present. Okay, so the happy clappers in J Stand might still be right behind “Louis Van Gaal’s Red and White Army” for their customary 10 minute sing-song, but the vast majority of his foot soldiers, at least those of my acquaintance, have simply given up believing and are now counting the days until he’s gone.

Looking at United’s record over the last couple of months, it’s absolutely remarkable how Van Gaal still finds himself in a job. He offered what was tantamount to a public resignation following the Norwich loss, after which the OT press bods turned their phones off causing widespread speculation that an announcement was imminent. Days later, the manner of the defeat at Stoke appeared to be the death knell. As well as admitting that he was contemplating resigning, Van Gaal also went as far as conceding he was no longer confident of his ability to turn things round. If he wasn’t a broken man at this point, then he was certainly doing a very good impression of one.

Surely then, it was just a matter of finalising the paperwork and agreeing the terms of his settlement? Nope, as he was still in place for Chelsea – not exactly buoyant, but still clinging on and trying to sound optimistic again. One slightly improved performance later (we didn’t get beat and even attacked a bit!) and his position was seemingly secure once more – as secure as it could be following yet another 0-0 draw and no win in 8 games, anyway. Mourinho meanwhile, together with the rest of us willing the board to take some decisive action, must have known at this point that the call was never going to arrive.

Everton v Manchester United, Britain - 26 Apr 2015

So Woodward and his paymeisters, presumably, are instead trying to buck the modern trend of crowd-pleasing decisions and premature sackings – Man United doing things differently and all that. At the opposite end of the scale you’ve got Real Madrid, where Rafa Benitez, despite being a clown, has just been given his cards off the back of three defeats all season and crucially, a 4-0 spanking by Barcelona. They won 10-2 a few weeks ago ffs! So it’s an admirable enough sentiment, this measured approach – but is really in the club’s best interests?

If this miserable run was merely a blip or had interrupted a good run of form, I could see the sense in remaining patient – but barring a decent run last March, United have been truly appalling to watch for the last 12 months. Even when we briefly went top of the table earlier in the season it didn’t ring true in the slightest. Given the overall lack of quality at the top of the table, if we were a half-way decent side we would be right up there challenging at this point. Instead, we find ourselves going through the motions whilst looking up at the likes of West Ham and Leicester. Okay, so there are injuries – but they are nothing new and are to be expected. There should be no excuses and we need to face some Bentitez-style ‘fachts’ – the level of performance being churned out is absolutely pathetic.

We’ve currently reached the stage where losing a 2 goal lead against a beleaguered Newcastle side is seen as an improvement – simply just because we scored a goal on the counter-attack and there was some excitement and a taste of the unexpected for once. 3 years ago, chucking away points in such a manner would’ve been seen as disastrous, but now it’s viewed as grounds for optimism. That’s what we’ve been reduced to, it’s right up there with our recent “brave” European exit in the straw-clutching stakes.

The trip to Anfield saw yet another abject display. Two poor sides with millions lavished on them, proving once more that Liverpool-United no longer deserves its billing as one of English football’s showpiece fixtures. These days, it’s just two formerly great sides, living on past glories and showcasing nothing except the bloated excesses of the Premier League. That said, beating them remains one of the greatest things in the world… and almost makes you forget the rest of the crap we’ve been forced to suffer over the last 3 months. Almost.

For all Van Gaal’s faults, and however grim the football, it’s becoming increasingly clear that unlike most of his managerial contemporaries, he’s still able to draw on vast reserves of good fortune when it’s needed most. Defeat, or even another draw at Anfield would have led to renewed pressure and intensified calls for change. Instead, despite another thoroughly miserable performance, Rooney scores and we sneak out with a scarcely merited 3 points. Louis then, emerges unscathed from yet another trying week. Roll on the next riveting instalment…

Copyright Red News – January 2016

www.rednews.co.uk

You’re Wondering Now

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Sigh. So the gloomy outlook described last month turned out to be depressingly accurate – 1 win, another 2 stupefyingly dull 0-0’s, and our best performance coming as we cruised out of Europe on a night where circumstances dictated that the usual Van Gaal playbook was abandoned. Rather than taking off, the season has instead veered off-track and nosedived into a ditch.

As far as United bad weeks go, this has been an absolute humdinger. Drawing at home to West Ham was a poor start, but then defeat in Germany and being comprehensively outclassed by Bournemouth has taken us to new, uncharted levels of gloom. I’m not even sure it can be classed as a crisis because all this happening comes as no surprise whatsoever. I’m no football sage but I called it to a couple of mates immediately after West Ham, “next week, we’ll go out of Europe and Bournemouth will beat us.” I wasn’t being facetious either, it was an entirely serious prediction.

Of course there are mitigating circumstances. The injury situation has reached farcical levels now, with half the team sheet comprising of players no one but seasoned Academy watchers had even heard of until 2-3 months ago. Pereira, Varela, McNair, Borthwick-Jackson, Lingard… Christ almighty, even Nick Powell has been exhumed. You can get away with including 1 or 2 of these lads at a time but expecting them to flourish en masse in an already misfiring, dysfunctional team is wildly optimistic. It simply wasn’t going to happen. Our 1st team is goal shy and struggles to break sides down, so why expect a team of reserves and youth players to fare any better?

It’s been suggested that this sudden influx of fresh faces and an attacking display in spite of losing to Wolfsburg should be seen as grounds for optimism – indeed, I’ve heard the phrases ‘brave performance’ and ‘hope for the future’ uttered over the last week. Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. Of course United went on the offensive in Germany, we had no other option given the urgent need for goals to qualify. This didn’t demonstrate any change in Van Gaal’s mindset or provide evidence he’ll now decide to abandon the safety first approach – he was simply forced into doing something different for once.

The most telling moment of the entire European campaign was with 30 mins left in the penultimate game versus PSV. That was the time when we needed to push on and press for a winner that would’ve assured qualification. And what did we do? Precisely nothing. There was no discernible attacking threat in the final half hour as instead our possession game became more and more ragged. Belief visibly drained from everyone on the pitch, Mata finally introduced with just 5 minutes left, the opponents ending the match looking the more likely to score. All in all, it was textbook United under Van Gaal. We were out then… and it was fully deserved after such a timid home performance against limited opposition.

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Van Gaal himself appears to have changed over the last couple of weeks. Whilst he’s always been a stoic figure on the bench, when facing the press he’s always come across as dogmatic and assured. All of a sudden he doesn’t seem quite so consistent in the noises he’s making. The standard of refereeing has had a mention, certain players have been singled out and best of all, supporters’ expectation levels are now being questioned too. Picking holes in his claims is unnecessary, but the fact he’s decided to start criticising fans when he’s had a very easy ride and relatively little stick from that direction speaks volumes. This, let’s not forget, was the ebullient character confidently instructing us to “boo me, not the team” just a few weeks ago.

Even more perplexing, is Van Gaal’s assertion that the team is making progress… which we undoubtedly are providing you disregard the abysmal football witnessed week in, week out and instead squint your eyes and study the stats from a certain angle. I just don’t think going out in the CL group stages and losing on pens to Middlesborough in the League Cup is going to prove progress enough when it comes to deciding if his services are to be retained beyond the end of the season. Yes, things are slightly better than when Moyes was here, but if Moyes had been given £250M to spend with a further 18 months in charge would things really be that much different now?

Nothing Van Gaal has done gives me much confidence we’re going to be seeing a noticeable upturn in fortunes any time soon. The signings (Martial aside) haven’t had any impact, with most looking like bang average additions to an already bang average squad. Depay has been mostly terrible, inheriting Nani’s football brain minus his first touch; Sneiderlin is completely and utterly Southampton; Schweinsteiger looks every inch the 31 year old warhorse whose legs have started to fail him. The only player who looks to have progressed under Van Gaal is Chris Smalling who’s having a fantastic season. Our best performer, once again, is the goalkeeper… which says a lot about the paucity of entertainment on offer each week.

No doubt in January we’ll see another couple of expensive signings. A goalscorer would be nice considering we sold two in the summer and it’s difficult to envisage Rooney ever being good ever again – sorry Wayne, it pains me to admit it, but even a long-term, staunch believer like me wakes up to reality eventually. Defensive cover too must surely be a priority considering we’re currently down to the bare bones of an already threadbare squad, plus I don’t think it’s actually legal to start playing U-13’s at senior level.

What United are most desperate for though, is a playmaker. One of those rarely seen, mythical creatures capable of coming in and releasing the potential that’s lurking within each of the other current underachievers. Problem is, even if we did unearth the next Eric Cantona, do you honestly think that Van Gaal would share the vision? Sadly, I’d hazard a guess that he wouldn’t… and that’s ultimately one of the main reasons he won’t be here much longer.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Copyright Red News – December 2015

www.rednews.co.uk