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.
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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.
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