When it comes to assessing Louis van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United, the club should be left with absolutely no option but to fire him this summer, writes Derek Bilton.
There was relief all round when news broke that the ‘bomb’ found at Old Trafford on Sunday was a dummy. In the event, thankfully, there was no aborted terror attack, just a lot of very red faces.
But embarrassment is something those associated with Manchester United are becoming more and more familiar with. The inquest into how and why a fake bomb from a training drill was left unattended for days in a toilet block at the ground will continue apace this week.
And with the club now having fulfilled its last Premier League fixture against Bournemouth on Tuesday night, preparations are now underfoot for their FA Cup final against Crystal Palace on Saturday….
However, that won’t stop an another inquest at Manchester United to explore why this once great team has again failed to qualify for the Champions League. It was never meant to be this way. So what’s gone wrong at Old Trafford?
When Louis Van Gaal arrived he looked an astute appointment. A manager with a reputation for success who could put things right after the shambles that was the David Moyes era. He had just come back from the 2014 World Cup, a tournament where his Holland side had spanked reigning champions Spain 5-1 en route to a respectable third-place finish.
The stars looked to be aligning, but the harsh reality is LVG has promised much and delivered precious little at M16. Yes he got them Champions League football in his first season but it was never pretty. And they were found out in this season’s competition, bowing out in the group stages.
Their league form has also been underwhelming. If they’d have beaten West Ham last week and snuck into the Champions League, especially at the expense of Manchester City, it would have papered over the cracks.
But they haven’t so it’s only right and proper that their performances are now being scrutinised. Tactically they have been awful. Manchester United fans have been weaned on displays of swashbuckling derring-do. Players such as George Best and Willie Morgan, and in more recent times Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis marauding down the wings whipping in tasty crosses for the forwards to devour. Free-flowing football was always synonymous with this club, but under Van Gaal caution has been the buzzword.
Ask the fans and they will tell you that their main gripe is that the players are discouraged from taking risks. It’s percentage football where possession seems the be all and end all. And such negative tactics have of course stifled United’s more creative players.
This caution on the pitch has been mirrored in the transfer market. Just last week Bayern Munich announced a bonanza double deal for Renato Sanches and Mats Hummels. Hummels of course is a player who had been linked with the 20-time English champions for many a season. And the word on the street is Old Trafford scouts were monitoring Benfica midfielder Sanches – one of the hottest young properties in Europe – for months. Yet both end up signing for Bayern.
Until recently Manchester United have always been a club not averse to rolling the dice in the transfer market. If they player seemed to meet their requirements the club would move hell or high water to get the deal done. They did it with Roy Keane. They did it with Ruud van Nistelrooy. And with Wayne Rooney.
Now though when it comes to transfers they have become a club with a reputation for talking a good game rather than getting down to the actual nitty gritty of signing the very best. If Sanches does go on to become one of the world’s elite players it will be another slap in the face for United fans onto cheeks already beaming red from the embarrassment of their club finishing the season a boat load of points behind Leicester City.
If Van Gaal’s management wasn’t off touch enough, his handling of the media also leaves a lot to be desired. Calling a reporter ‘fat man’ and talking about sexual masochism are further signs of him showing strain.
His handling of the Manchester United faithful isn’t much better either: telling them their “expectations are too high” after the club finished a disappointing fifth following Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over the Cherries.
They may well lift the FA Cup this weekend but it all looks too little too late for Mr Van Gaal, whose tedious tactics and lack of imagination in the transfer market will ultimately leave him with no option but to fall on his sword this summer.