Louis van Gaal should stop lying to himself and the Manchester United fans. His furtive attempt at framing Tuesday’s premature Champions League exit as a hallmark of wider success was truly embarrassing, and a sign elite football has passed this once-great manager by. These words proved his sacking cannot come soon enough.
– GALLERY: Cristiano Ronaldo’s best quotes
– ValoraFutbol: This week’s La Liga top-5 players
With Pep Guardiola rumoured not to be extending his rapidly-expiring Bayern Munich contract and Carlo Ancelotti sat at home, to stick with the Dutchman into 2016-17 would be an unacceptable dereliction of duty from a current United hierarchy prone to error. Only self-preservation from those who hired him can explain his continued employment.
“At the moment I cannot defend myself because we are out of the Champions League,” pleaded the Dutchman. “But the facts say we are better than last year.”
These “facts” make a flimsy defence. The fourth-placed finish in 2014-15 which got United back into the Champions League required a lower points tally than the two previous seasons, while a penalty shoot-out exit to Championship side Middlesbrough in the League Cup’s round of 16 cannot be hailed.
These piecemeal signs of progress might be acceptable for a team like Tottenham Hotspur. They are not good enough for a boss who has spent £250 million (Dh1.4 billion) during his one-and-a-half-year reign and who had taken over an institution with a proven capacity to be a European powerhouse.
The 3-2 loss at Wolfsburg which condemned United to Thursday night viewing in the Europa League contained more attacking excitement than the rest of a moribund 2015-16 combined. Yet the defensive bedlam which reared its head from nowhere portrayed a boss fumbling about in the dark.
The noise from an unidentified senior source – although it doesn’t take a super sleuth to guess who – which came out of Old Trafford pre-match echoed with enchantment about the 64-year-old.
Forget getting involved in the chase for the celebrated Guardiola they said, an extension to the incumbent’s deal which runs out in summer 2017 could even occur. There is absolutely no justification for that scenario to come to fruition.
Owen: “The players Van Gaal have bought in are not better than who he has let go, Rafael, Evra, Nani, RvP, Hernandez, Welbeck.”
— United Peoples TV (@UnitedPeoplesTV) December 8, 2015
Even before the Champions League misery, there were plenty of things to justify his removal. These include a proven ability to make games worse with prescribed substitutions, as many goalless draws in his last six home matches as Sir Alex Ferguson managed in his last 203, pandering to Wayne Rooney, criminal misuse of Angel Di Maria, mistrust of Ander Herrera, failure to bolster an injuryprone defence and ignorance of talented young striker James Wilson.
The wider picture also does not paint Van Gaal in a positive light. United sit fourth in the Premier League, three points off surprise leaders Leicester City who have proved great results and safety-first football are not interlinked.
United possess the meanest defence in the top flight. Yet one of the worst selections in recent memory inspired it, the Dutchman incredibly picking walking statues Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield ahead of Morgan Schneiderlin in October 4’s 3-0 thrashing by pacy Arsenal.
In Europe, Van Gaal was handed a walkthrough in Group B. Table toppers Wolfsburg are well resourced, but sold their talisman Kevin De Bruyne to Manchester City this summer. Second-placed PSV Eindhoven cashed in on star winger Memphis Depay to United and transferred the excellent Georginio Wijnaldum to Newcastle United this summer. But this feeder club to the modern, moneyed elite finished two points clear to shame the Red Devils.
Van Gaal’s side paid the price for playing with the handbrake on for too much of this campaign and being forced to take it off at the worst moment when injuries afflicted the squad.
A minimum of intent in both clashes with PSV and at CSKA Moscow would have earned the results to sail through. They did not and for this there can be only one outcome. It should be the beginning of the end for Van Gaal’s joyless United.
Know more about Sport360 Application
Real Madrid’s easy victory over limp Getafe on Saturday afternoon did little to dispel the general feeling that the walls are starting to close in, not just on manager Rafa Benitez, but also president Florentino Perez.
– EXCLUSIVE: Jerome Boateng full of Pep at Bayern
Benitez, harshly, has been a dead man walking ever since he first stepped through the Bernabeu’s entrance gate this summer.
Nobody wanted him to be appointed in the first place, and at a club where the supporters and players are so tough and demanding, recovering from such an unpromising start is close to impossible.
It has been notable, though, just how much of the unrest has been centred not on the manager, but upon the man ultimately responsible for running the club: Perez.
The long-serving president has been the focus of protests for the last two games at the Bernabeu, with the Clasico defeat against Barcelona and Saturday’s win over Getafe both witnessing the increasingly popular refrain: ‘Florentino, dimision’ – Florentino, resign.
This week’s expulsion from the Copa del Rey could prove to be a tipping point, because the embarrassment of the wealthiest sporting organisation in the world being eliminated from a major tournament due to an administrative error will be hard to live down.
Of course, Perez was not directly responsible for the mistake which led to Denis Cheryshev being named in the starting XI for Wednesday’s trip to Cadiz (nor was manager Benitez, whose job is to work with the players made available to him).
The fault, if individuals have to be pinpointed, probably lies with Cheryshev himself and with an anonymous member of the club’s secretarial staff whose duties involve keeping abreast of the disciplinary status of each player. But placing personal blame is not the point here.
Rather than individuals, the chief fault is structural, with the organisational tasks of the club not being carried out adequately. And for this, as president, Perez is ultimately responsible.
BREAKING NEWS! Florentino Perez has fired the club’s fax machine over De Gea affair&failing to inform him about suspension of DenisCheryshev
— Ray Hudson (@RayHudson) December 3, 2015
More importantly, this is not the first time Madrid have shown themselves to be administratively incompetent. There was the bungled attempt to sign David de Gea, which fell apart at the last minute due to Los Blancos’ failure to complete the necessary paperwork.
Another error came with the departure of legendary former captain Iker Casillas, who was allowed to attend his farewell press conference without any members of the club’s hierarchy in attendance.
After a furore, another ‘event’ was held a day later with Perez turning up, as he should have been in the first place. And few Madrid fans have forgotten the shambles of Carlo Ancelotti’s sacking, when Perez answered the question of why the popular Italian had been axed by shrugging his shoulders and muttering: “I don’t know…”
So many mistakes and misjudgments in such a short space of time cannot just be coincidence, and together they point towards the startling realisation that Real Madrid – the mighty Real Madrid – are in many ways a badly run club.
The club’s members are not stupid, and they are reaching this conclusion in increasing numbers. Ultimately the buck has to stop with the leader, and Perez cannot continue to credibly blame everyone else for his club’s problems.
This might not yet be the end of his reign, but his descent down the slippery slope is starting to appear irreversible.