The pressure is piling on Louis van Gaal and his Manchester United side following a humiliating home defeat to Norwich, who were third from bottom at the start of play. The newly promoted side fully deserved their hard grafted win, with two simple goals on the counter attack. United looked limp, slow and uncreative in a game that was very reminiscent of previous fixtures.
Alex Tettey, who scored Norwich’s second goal, was immense in the middle of the park. The visitors were first to every ball, harried United’s players and were well worth their first win at Old Trafford since 1989/90. Van Gaal, who had been defiant in recent weeks following similarity poor performances and results, appeared to be in a more sombre mood – perhaps a man who realises that his job is on the line – following the 2-1 defeat. Ryan Giggs, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are all candidates that have been linked with the United hot seat and the next two games against Stoke City and Chelsea will be crucial in the fate of the Dutchman.
Time & patience
From 1971 and the last game that Sir Matt Busby took charge of the United first team and November 1986 when Sir Alex Ferguson took charge of his first match – football has changed, a lot. From that game in 1986 against Oxford United up to the first game of the David Moyes reign in the summer of 2013 – football was unrecognisable. From the stadiums, to player diets to the money involved – football in England has evolved at such a rapid rate it can be difficult to comprehend a managerial hierarchy and style that differs to that of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson – two managers that brought trophies, stability but most importantly a style that promoted open attacking football and threw youth in at the deep end.
Are we kidding ourselves that there is another Sir Alex Ferguson awaiting to be discovered? Many look to Ryan Giggs as the beacon of light, the final link between Fergie’s swashbuckling United of the 90s and the present day. Giggs is the most important and decorated player in Manchester United’s long history. Other players, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, may have been more talented and other players – such as George Best and Eric Cantona – achieved cult status amongst the United faithful – but Ryan Giggs has appeared in more games and contributed to more trophies than any other player to pull on a United shirt. He is intwined within Old Trafford forever more and will surely succeed his old mentor, Ferguson, one day – but with van Gaal under pressure will that be sooner rather than later?
Ferguson always looked at the likes of Bayern Munich who surround the club’s hierarchy with ex-players as the way forward for Manchester United, which is why Ryan Giggs should be given – one day – the opportunity to manage the club. However, learning from the master isn’t always a blueprint for success. There have been a number of good managers born out of the Ferguson school of management – but none have ever gone on to any success that warrants the notion of a natural successor to the great man. Following Sunderland’s promotion to the Premier League in 2007, many thought Roy Keane – Ferguson’s voice and influence on the pitch for so many years – would go to to manage United one day, but sadly that isn’t to be. Giggs has learnt from Ferguson and now from Louis van Gaal – but until he is flung into hot seat, it is still unknown as to whether he will be a success or not.
So, to van Gaal – should he remain in charge following what has been an abysmal last couple of weeks? His position is becoming untenable. Defeats away at Wolfsburg and Bournemouth saw United knocked out of the Champions League and lose ground on the league leaders. Defeats are one thing, but the manner in which they are played out are another. Here we have a manager who has won battles in the caldron of the Santiago Bernabéu, has reached the pinnacle of European football with a youthful set of starlets in that cool spring Vienna night. He nearly won back to back European Cups the following season, only to lose out to Juventus on penalties in the final. He has the pedigree, but that was twenty years ago. Football has evolved and Louis van Gaal is very close to be considered a has been, a manager who can no longer cut it at the top level.
The Dutchman has always been a figure of authority and stubbornness since he signed in the summer of 2014 for the club. However, following the defeat to Norwich – he said something that could indicate his current state of mind. “I am, or maybe I now have to say was, a very successful manager” – is what van Gaal muttered following the defeat by Alex Neil’s side on Saturday. The confident and self assured van Gaal surely demonstrating the first glimpses of doubt, that the final chapter of what is a very successful managerial career will not actually conclude in a blaze of glory. £250 million has been spent on a team that still looks no further near a coherent team excluding that two month period from March of this year – when it looked as if van Gaal’s philosophy was starting to come together ahead of a real push in 2015/16.
Since those victories over Spurs, Manchester City and Liverpool – United have gone backwards. Despite Louis van Gaal’s odd spin that following United’s exit from the Champions League, his side had indeed shown progress by progressing a round further in the League Cup than the season before – ironically, out of that tournament as well. He continued with his comments like a battered animal in the corner fighting for survival, lashing out at anyone who dared to question his approach – or philosophy. The notion that United fans need to get used to not winning trophies as those day are gone was equally ridiculous, considering that is the ultimate objective of his job. Winning trophies in the short term isn’t a request from United fans, but there needs to be a visible long term strategy in place.
From Giggsy to Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola for many is the dream coach for United. Nurtured under the guidance of Johan Cruyff, he was part of the original dream team that won the 1992 European Cup with Barcelona. His vision and movement was rare in a player so young and he would go on to lead the Catalan club as skipper. Once Xavi came into the fold, the original deep lying playmaker moved to Brescia, Roma and then on to the middle east for one big final payday – but Guardiola name is ingrained within Barcelona’s history. Famously, he would then go on to manage his beloved club and be even more successful as a coach than he had been as a player. He possessed one of the best team’s ever assembled and of course, one of the best players – in Lionel Messi – that has ever graced a football pitch. His possession based football had opponents spinning or as Sir Alex Ferguson once put it “They get you on that carousel and they make you dizzy with their passing”.
Its been nearly half a decade since the European Final at Wembley. If an under performing United were kicking themselves from losing 2-0 to a much better Barcelona side in Rome two years previous, the 3-1 defeat at the hands of the same club was generous to say the least. Guardiola’s men would have beaten anyone that evening, anyone and you could see it in the Barcelona coach’s face following the final whistle – they were at the pinnacle of European football beating the only side who could have come close, albeit a very distant second.
The news that Guardiola is due to leave his post at Bayern Munich at the end of the season has many of the top clubs scurrying to try and see if indeed they can persuade the three times European Cup winner to lead their club forward. Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are the three clubs that will surely be at the front of the queue. City have the infrastructure, the academy and of course Txiki Begiristain – their director of football – formerly at Barcelona. Chelsea have just sacked Jose Mourinho and hired Guus Hiddink as interim. With Roman Abramovich’s desire to play football with a bit of style, the Spaniard fits the bill and at the right time of a season of rebuilding. Mourinho’s sacking makes sense at time where Guardiola’s future was being decided. United are most likely the third favourite destination, considering that van Gaal still has a contract until 2017 and Ryan Giggs is waiting in the background. United would need to act now and fast if they are going to steal the prized jewel of European football.
Lastly, that leave Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese has publicly announced he wants to jump straight back into the managerial hotseat, which of course will have alerted the hierarchy at Old Trafford. Mourinho, never a man to remain silent, would be a great acquisition for Manchester United, with many arguing that he should have been given the job post Ferguson’s retirement. Of course, many on the board – like Sir Bobby Charlton – and many fans feel that Mourinho’s isn’t the right fit to following in the footsteps of Busby and Ferguson, but the man is a winner and will be on the warpath to show he still has what it takes to cut it in the Premier League. His style of football doesn’t fit with the Manchester United way and he massively under invests in youth, considering he only remains at any club for a short while – but he has the status to attract big names and like you saw at Internazionale, his players put their lives on the line for him.
The next two games are crucial to the future of Louis van Gaal and Manchester United. A defeat against Stoke City or Chelsea, could well spell the end of the Dutchman in what has been a disappointing reign thus far.