Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! It’s been a largely forgettable season for Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United. Ahead of their crucial Emirates FA Cup final appearance, and with whispers mounting that Jose Mourinho may be poised to take his place, we ask writers Matt Blake and Joe Barnes if it’s time for the Dutchman to go…
YES! He’s got to go
“Forget the FA Cup; no cherry can save a cake that’s collapsed in the oven, not even one with red and white ribbons tied to its stalk” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
He’s made United boring
Manchester United have been boring to watch this season. Gone is the pillage-and-plunder play of Ferguson's reign, replaced by a style that could only be less entertaining to watch if broadcast exclusively on Ceefax. Yes, once or twice they’ve creaked into gear, but for the most part they’ve played with all the verve and direction of a team of confused Tin Men from The Wizard Of Oz, clunking rustily about after their missing hearts. They never seemed to find them, and it showed. Even Van Gaal himself admitted he found United boring to watch at times, as if it was someone else’s fault. That speaks volumes.
His tactics confused everyone
Van Gaal never really found a plan that worked. When one formation seemed to develop into something that vaguely resembled plan, he’d tear it up and start again. It was weird. Never more so than against Spurs in April, when he brought on Ashley Young, a midfielder, for Marcus Rashford, dragging Anthony Martial, a striker, to the wing so Young could play up front. Martial looked adrift at best, while Young ran about like a toddler chasing bubbles. Tottenham scored three times in six minutes. Game over.
His possession obsession cost him
Manchester United had the second-highest average possession in the Barclays Premier League (55.7%) this season, but only the 15th highest shot-per-game ratio (11.3). Leicester, on the other hand, enjoyed just 44.8% possession (18th place), yet managed 13.7 shots per game (7th highest in the league). In that light, consider that United played more football in the opposition third (32%) than any other team this season, and you have to wonder: what was Van Gaal telling his players to do with the ball if it didn’t end with “… and then, lads, kick it in the goal”?
Too many chances blown
It’s not like United haven’t had their chances. In October they could have gone top with a win over Arsenal, but lost 3-0. In December they had a chance to enter the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League by beating Wolfsburg. They lost 3-2. In March they could’ve kept alive a back-door route into the UEFA Champions League with a win over Liverpool in the UEFA Europa League last-16, but lost 3-1 on aggregate. In their penultimate game of the season, a win over West Ham would’ve seen United leapfrog City into fourth with a game to go. They were 2-1 up by the 71st minute, yet still lost 3-2. Van Gaal couldn’t blow wind into United’s sails when they needed it most. This Dutchman has to fly.
An FA Cup is not enough
OK, so Van Gaal has guided United to an FA Cup final. And they may even win on Saturday. But no cherry can save a cake that’s collapsed in the oven, not even one with red and white ribbons tied to its stalk. Van Gaal has overseen two European exits and failed to mount even a remote title challenge this season. That is the very least United should expect, having splurged £250 million on players since he took charge two years ago. The fans want more. It’s time for the board to give it to them.
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NO! He’s still the man for the job
“Stick with the 64-year-old Dutchman and show him some love or at least some confidence” – Joe Barnes, sports writer, Virgin Media
Give the man time
Let us not forget it took eight barren seasons before former manager Alex Ferguson won the league with Manchester United. In almost a decade of management, all the Scot could muster was one FA and League Cup, a solitary Community Shield (which was shared with Liverpool), and some pointless European silverware. Van Gaal has only been at the helm of the Red Devils for a mere 673 days. That’s just 969,120 minutes. He’s rebuilding an empire that Ferguson smartly scarpered from as it was going to the dogs. You try turning around an ailing giant in the time it takes to cook 161,520 boiled eggs. He’ll get there, he just needs time.
He’s not just a Dutch bloke with a girl’s name
Ok, he is Dutch, and his middle name is Maria, but Van Gaal isn’t some two-bit chancer – he’s a bona fide titan of the game, more decorated than a North Korean army general. It’s not like he arrived in Manchester bereft of the skills that won him seven league titles in three different nations. The fact that a man of his ability and standing has failed to win the league or a European cup is a sign of how much work there is to be done at United – but he can’t be held to account for the club’s failings.
The grass is definitely not greener
Most footy fans are guilty of assuming the grass could be so much greener with another manager (hello Gooners!). But take a closer look and you’ll see that the grass is just some horrible cut-price AstroTurf that’ll leave you with the mother of all carpet burns. Take Newcastle United. They’ve choppered in 11 different managers in ten years. Where has that got them? Away matches at Rotherham, that’s where. Manchester United are a club that have performed best with continuity and stability; the one way they can prove they’re better and stronger than their manager-flipping rivals at the Etihad is having the strength to stick with their man (and his lovely big hair).
He brings personality to the league
Van Gaal may have been criticised for being boring on the pitch, but nobody can accuse him of that off it. In the Pulis-Pearson age of modern football, where most managers sound more like police inspectors making a witness appeal, Van Gaal is king of the soundbite. Remember when he claimed hair-pulling is only appropriate as a form of “sex masochism”? Or when he fell over on the touchline to demonstrate a dive? I could go on, but you get the point. His livewire personality makes the league a better place.
He's had to contend with a bunch of crocks
With the likes of Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw and Bastian Schweinsteiger out for significant chunks of the season, Van Gaal has regularly been forced to field a team of fringe players, who you probably wouldn't recognise if you saw them shopping for veg in your local supermarket. With a full squad at his disposal, you can bet Man Utd would have finished higher than 6th and there’d be significantly less people calling for Van Gaal to join the other 11 Barclays Premier League managers who have been given the boot this campaign.
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