Due to Manchester United’s Champions League exit and their dour style of play, many are questioning Louis van Gaal’s future. TEAMtalk considers the club’s options…
Tuesday night’s 3-2 defeat in Wolfsburg meant the end of United’s Champions League participation, with the Red Devils finishing third in a group that they were expected to negotiate comfortably. To many pundits and United fans, the result marked a tipping point for Van Gaal. But would should United do?
Replace Van Gaal now:
It seems today there would be few United fans who would be unhappy to see Ed Woodward wield the axe. The only thing saving Van Gaal from greater scrutiny up to now was results; the football is dour but there is evidence of progress. Their league position, though, doesn’t factor in how inconsistent United’s traditional rivals have been and poor showings in big games this season coupled with a Champions League exit means big questions are starting to be asked across all sections of supporters.
Few in the dressing room would mourn Van Gaal’s immediate exit, if reports are to be believed. There have been many stories of late quoting sources from inside the camp, stating how stifled and unsatisfied squad members feel under the Dutchman. One unnamed star told the Telegraph last month that he is “half the player” he should be because of Van Gaal. The body language and performances of many others – at least half a dozen – suggest he is not alone in feeling that way. David Moyes’ reign was constantly undermined by dressing room moles and there are too many leaks now coming out of Carrington to simply dismiss.
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There are only two feasible candidates to immediately appease the more unhappy players and supporters: Ryan Giggs and Carlo Ancelotti.
Giggs’s position is an awkward one. As Van Gaal’s assistant, he must be seen to be loyal to the manager but he cannot be sitting comfortably as the mud flies around him. The United legend wants the job but his ascent into the hot seat is looking far less certain than previously due to other options open to the club in the short and medium-term future.
Ancelotti’s availability is intriguing to many clubs. The Italian’s amenable nature makes him popular in dressing rooms and boardrooms. With a few minor tweaks, could Ancelotti bring about a short-term improvement? Almost certainly.
But Van Gaal is halfway through a three-year plan and it is hard to argue that he has not achieved every target set. The boss stabilised the dressing room and returned the club to the Champions League in his first season; the aim for the second is surely to be competitive in the Premier League and earn some silverware, before returning the club to the top table of European football next season. Despite some of the panic currently around United, Van Gaal, who has also blooded many youngsters, can make a case that he remains on course to satisfy the criteria he has been set.
Cada uno en su sitio! Animo Manchester!!! pic.twitter.com/CdwdS8oaRJ
— Hristo Stoitchkov (@Hristo8Official) December 8, 2015
Consider other options in the summer:
To ponder replacing Van Gaal two-thirds of the way through his three-year plan may be unfair when we do not yet know what United might achieve come May. But the Dutchman’s methods and the possible availability of other managers makes it a reasonable consideration.
Can United’s current players stomach another year under Van Gaal? Do the type of players United want to attract next summer want to play for the manager, given what they have seen of his reign so far and what they will have heard from friends already in the camp? Woodward is desperate to be pictured under a United scarf with a Neymar or Cristiano Ronaldo-type of star holding aloft the other end. Would that level of player be willing to subscribe to Van Gaal’s philosophy when more exciting options surely lie elsewhere?
That would not be a consideration for almost any player if it was Guardiola who they were coming to United to play for. The Spaniard is reported to be interested in the United job and the suggestions are that he will be available in the summer.
Guardiola’s possession-based game is not a million miles from Van Gaal’s style of play and those currently screaming ‘attack, attack, attack’ from the Stretford End just as United are doing just that might want to be careful what they wish for if they want the former Barcelona coach installed in the Old Trafford dug out. But Guardiola is undoubtedly a pull for the game’s best players and he would almost certainly wake many of the current squad from their slumber.
The press were briefed last week that United would also be watching Gary Neville’s progress at Valencia with interest. The former skipper is at the Mestalla until the summer and the former Sky pundit is said to be just as interested in the United job as Giggs, who “triple-ticks” all the criteria required of the next manager, according to the top-level club source. Next summer might come too soon for either Class of 92 graduate. The following year is likely to be another story.
Allow Van Gaal to see out his three-year plan
“We are in a process, as I have said from the beginning. The process shall take more than one year; it shall take three years.”
That was Van Gaal a year ago but it could just as easily be taken from any of his press conferences from the last 12 months. But the manager is correct, however reluctant some United fans may be to accept it.
Van Gaal took over a side in seventh place in the Premier League, out of the Champions League and with a defence in the process of being almost completely dismantled. The manager was right when he said after the defeat at Wolfsburg: “The facts say we are better than last year.”
Given that targets – however modest – have been hit, then Van Gaal has a strong case for being allowed to continue to implement his three-year plan. The first half of his reign has been spent making United more solid and he has achieved that, though it should perhaps come as no surprise when almost the entire team is set up to protect the defence. They are hard to beat but harder to watch. Van Gaal must now focus on United’s attacking failings but whether he is willing to relinquish some control by slackening the leash on his forward players remains to be seen.
January is clearly critical for Van Gaal. In a notoriously difficult market, the manager must add the required attacking quality and defensive depth to enable United to challenge for the title this season if he wishes to finish his three-year project.