Promoting youth and possible FA Cup glory cannot distract from Louis van Gaal’s failure at Man Utd, while Claudio Ranieri’s tears of joy come as a refreshing change.
Neither youth nor FA Cup can save Van Gaal
In the wake of the dismal defeat at Tottenham, Manchester United’s FA Cup replay at West Ham has been labelled make or break for their season. Sadly, though, for Louis van Gaal, not even silverware at Wembley in May can rescue their campaign should the Red Devils continue their stumble to a fifth or sixth-place finish in the Premier League.
Following last term’s return to the top four in Van Gaal’s first season in charge, the Dutchman’s targets have been missed ever since. A title challenge was expected as well as progress from the Champions League group stage. Instead United have been embarrassed in both competitions, and nothing that might happen at Wembley – should the unlikely occur and they get there – can alter the fact that the team have woefully underperformed and look as far away from being a cohesive unit as they have at any point over the last two seasons.
At White Hart Lane, Van Gaal again had square pegs playing in round holes, with his players appearing as confused as ever, despite all the brain training that the manager claims to lead.
Van Gaal should have gone at Christmas, following four miserable defeats that concluded with the worst of the lot at Stoke on Boxing Day. But Ed Woodward has been too scared to pull the trigger while war rages in the Old Trafford boardroom over the identity of who should be next.
Jose Mourinho was again in cryptic mood when asked about his next move, which seems almost certain to be to Manchester. The main point of concern around the former Real Madrid and Chelsea boss seems to be focused on his poor track record of bringing through youngsters, which is the one thing Van Gaal has achieved this season – more through necessity, though, than desire.
No one really knows for sure what slant Mourinho holds on blooding youth, simply because the roles he has previously held have not demanded that it should be a consideration. Nor did Chelsea or Real Madrid present the Portuguese coach with a prodiguous talent from their youth ranks who deserved elevation into the first XI of Mourinho’s title-winning machines.
Mourinho keenness to take the job at Old Trafford puts United in a strong position if they want to stipulate that the manager must consider the youngsters at his disposal. But the club have to deliver on their end of the bargain too, and deliver talents like Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah to the first-team changing room. Much has been said and written about the state of the club’s academy, which has fallen behind rivals Manchester City in recent years. If there is little talent to follow the current crop through the system, then no first-team manager can be blamed for looking externally to fill their squad.
However, whether it is Mourinho or anyone else, he next manager has far more pressing concerns than United’s tradition of promoting youth. There is a senior squad that requires major surgery, and since it was assembled by Van Gaal, it has to be someone else’s task to dismantle and rebuild it.
Ranieri tears show pride and disbelief in equal measure
Claudio Ranieri has been calmness personified this season and his guile and leadership has taken Leicester to the brink of arguably the most unlikely title triumphs of all time.
The way he has distracted media attention away from the Foxes’ challenge this season has been as key to their push as the goals of Jamie Vardy, the graft of N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater and the guile of Riyad Mahrez over the course of an unforgettable campaign.
The Italian has done everything possible to ensure his players haven’t got carried away by the hype, while at the same time fostering a close-knit group which has enabled them to not just build momentum, but gain it as the season has progressed. I’ve lost count of the number of times over the season that Ranieri has insisted the focus is “only on the next game” and their “not thinking about the title”. A predictable response, perhaps, but the message reflected by the Italian has shone through his players – and as a result, never once have they looked nervous in their bid to land the impossible dream.
However, that ice-cool demeanour showed ever such slight signs of cracking following Sunday’s 2-0 victory at Sunderland, a result in which our article highlighted the displays of both Vardy and Drinkwater.
And even in a manager of Ranieri’s experience, it’s hardly surprising to see him finally show the emotion about what Leicester are on the brink of achieving. Any supporter who has seen their club win a trophy, a title, or even stage a dramatic stage escape against relegation will understand exactly how Ranieri feels. And it’s not only nice to see, it’s also refreshing, especially in this era where money is king, and egos are bigger.
But rather than Ranieri’s tears showing that the club’s rise is ‘getting to him’ I believe they’ll have the opposite effect. If Leicester’s players didn’t already know it already, in Ranieri they have a manager who truly cares about what Leicester are on the brink of achieving – and I’m quite sure they wouldn’t change him, or his ways, for the world.
Why the Swansea clamour to replace Guidolin?
I keep reading Swansea being linked with a summer appointment for a new manager, with Brendan Rodgers’ name the most commonly thrown up in relation to the job. But why the clamour for the club to replace a man who has guided them from relegation danger to the 40-point safety mark in just three months in charge?
The Italian himself has said he’ll discuss his future at the club once the club has guaranteed safety, with Saturday’s 1-0 win over Chelsea achieving that for the Jacks.
After taking their time to replace Garry Monk with Guidolin, it’s rumoured some within the club don’t fancy the long-term leadership of the 60-year-old, instead preferring a more glamorous name, and hence the link to Rodgers.
But a club of Swansea’s stature really ought to be careful what they wish for, and replacing Guidolin with Rodgers could be a mistake Swansea will live to regret. After all, wily old Italians shouldn’t be taken for granted – just ask Leicester.