A (non)Emotional Defense of Hating Van Gaal’s Philosophy

“It’s hard to recognize my club. It sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s true. It’s like Leicester are United of old and United are Leicester of old! I don’t understand!” As we chatted about United’s latest failure, a terrible showing against Liverpool in the Europa League, emotions started to run high. This, after all, is football. It’s an emotional experience.

“Then, Van Gaal has the audacity to tell me that if I look back at his time in charge I can see that his philosophy is working?! Seriously?! If his goal is playing terrible football and draining the hope and life from the players and supporters, then he’s absolutely right!”

Ah, football…bloody hell.

There’s no point in sugar coating what Louis Van Gaal has instilled at Manchester United, no point at all – even if you are a ‘top red.’ The uncontrollable Dutch legend, with a resume of trophies any manager would kill for, seemed the perfect fit for a United side still sick from the loss of the greatest football manager of all time. The David Moyes experiment died from multiple complications while still in its infancy. A, now, trigger shy Woodward was just the opposite 8 months into the Scotsman’s tenure at United as he was unceremoniously shown the side door at the AON Training Complex. In truth, especially after the Netherland’s display at the World Cup under Van Gaal, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich man seemed the perfect appointment.

But it has been anything but that.

Claiming to want to train the brain of his players, Van Gaal has used multiple daily sessions, even during the season, and the same few drills over and over to instill his philosophy into his players. An eye-catching first summer tour in the United States proved what we now know – the less you know of the Dutchman’s philosophy the better things tend to go. A 7-0 drubbing of a poor LA Galaxy side in California was literally a mirage. Wins over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool taught us nothing about the greater picture. The wins were preseason friendlies but everything we needed to know was right there, we just didn’t realize it yet! The Dutchman’s philosophies were still new and his players weren’t firmly grasping them as United ran, somewhat, riot on their preseason tour. Van Gaal’s philosophy would begin to sink in, and just in time, for the opening day of the Premier League: Manchester United 1 – 2 Swansea at a packed and hopeful Old Trafford.

Four wins out of their first 12 fixtures in all competitions saw Van Gaal scrambling to ease the Moyes-like unrest growing through the United faithful. “He needed to get the dross out of the club,” was the excuse after United were battered like a beach in a hurricane at League 1 side MK Dons, 4-0. A ten match unbeaten streak followed this horrendous beginning to Van Gaal’s tenure and fears were put to rest, even if only for a while. Wins away at table toppers Southampton and at Arsenal sandwiched a 3-0 win against Liverpool at Old Trafford.

But never ever forget, it’s the hope that kills you.

Only 3 losses out of the next 12 matches saw United sitting in a good position in the table, but the final loss in that stretch saw Dat Guy, Danny Welbeck knock United out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford with his new Arsenal outfit. The results were going United’s way but the football on display was the kind of stuff most of United’s supporters had never seen before – alarm bells were already beginning to ring. The final 10 matches saw four wins in row to lock up 4th spot but 4 losses from their last 6 matches reinforced the fear that had already been planted early on – Louis Van Gaal is not right for Manchester United.

Match results are one thing, but player performance and man management are a completely different story under the Dutchman. Rafael gave away a penalty at Leicester and was sold. Chicharito missed a penalty, and a couple sitters, and was loaned to Real Madrid for the season. Tom Cleverly found greener pastures at Aston Villa, and eventually back with Roberto Martinez at Everton permanently. Darren Fletcher followed Jonny Evans’ lead and headed for West Brom. He even sent his own son, Robin Van Persie, packing and Nani joined him in Turkey.

The philosophy was in full play.

Wingers became strikers and visa versa. Backs were moved in to central defense and midfielders’ passes, backwards and sideways, per game tripled. Keep the ball. Poke and prod the defense for openings. Don’t take chances! Take a touch before shooting – you’ll be more accurate. Everyone was over trained. The squad was thinned out. Youth were brought in to fill the gaps – which is how it should be! But at one point 16+ injured showed Van Gaal’s naivety to a long English football season. He now uses youth to cover his failing tracks – ”fill in the blank name’ part of the squad for tonights match.’ Meetings were scheduled for those players to explain themselves when they missed a penalty or an open goal; they were then pulled from that duty. The confidence of each and every player on the pitch was greatly diminished and the world could see it. New players would quickly succeed only to be eventually influenced by Van Gaal and lose their way. The players, and fans alike most likely, like the Dutchman as a man but his football was the stuff sleep is made of.

The Dutchman’s second season was worse but why bore you with the details. Let’s just say United were top of the league at the end of September, 1 point off the top at the end of November, but a disastrous December decimated the club as far as 7th place. In a Premier League season when Sir Alex Ferguson would have walked the league by 20 points, Van Gaal is fighting for a Europa League spot.

The humane thing to do would have been to put the sick and dying animal down in December, giving United the hope (there’s that word again) of turning things around, but that highly necessary move never materialized.

Instead, the Iron Tulip, once feared in football, now only scares his players and supporters every time he has a press conference. Once a highly respected football man, Van Gaal now trolls his own club with his statements, his lineups, and his offerings of hope.

I hate myself for hating the man and the philosophy that has turned our club into a footballing joke, and this cancer goes much higher and deeper than Van Gaal’s office, but I hate it nonetheless.

In the words of my friend, “Make it stop. Please…make it stop.”

Stuck in the Middle (With You)

It is said that almost everything in life is cyclical. Just wait long enough and those out of style bell bottoms you’ve been hanging onto for 25 years could be the fashion statement of your company Christmas party this year (that Rosso Bianco Nero Jimmy Murphy Bobble Hat will never go out of style though). The cyclical nature of pop culture is easy to follow. The cyclical nature of football can be also.

January 1, 1972 and United were top of the table under new manager, Frank O’Farrell. The Irishman had replaced the retiring legend, Matt Busby in summer of 1971. The Red Devils were away to West Ham on the first day of the new year. A 3-0 defeat was the beginning of United losing 7 league matches on the trot. Despite being 10 points clear at the top at one point they would never recover from this slide. They finished 8th in league. George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton finished the season with 26, 13, and 12 goals respectively.

The slump that took United out of the title race at the beginning of 1972 continued to the end of the year. O’Farrell couldn’t come to grips with the excesses of George Best and dropped him. The hard nosed manager would lose 11 of his first 22 matches in the new season and was relieved of duties in late December, 1972. O’Farrell only spent 18 months in charge of Manchester United.

Fast forward to 2015. Does any of this ring a bell? It should.

Louis Van Gaal has somehow survived as Manchester United manager. Like O’Farrell, Van Gaal should have been relieved of duty in late December after only 18 months on the job. Like O’Farrell, Van Gaal had United top of the league only to see it slip away after a shockingly poor run of results. Like O’Farrell, the right thing for United to do then, as was the right thing to do in December, was to make a managerial change.

Midseason managerial changes can be a shockingly bad idea. But to see Chelsea now, compared to how they were at the beginning of the season, shows that changes mid-season can have the right effect on a team devoid of confidence.

This was the change United needed in December of 2015, just as it was needed in December of 1972. Due to rumoured board room squabbles and executives worried about their own skin as opposed to the club’s, the change did not happen. The maddening thing is, everyone knew a change was coming. Everyone. Results were poor. Team morale was non-existent. Footballing creativity and joy was no where to be found. And United were slipping. Champions League had gone. 1st place had slipped to 7th place in a few short weeks. Had this season not been the strangest for 20 years, United wouldn’t be in 5th place as they are now – they would be occupying 11th place.

Depending on what and who you believe a change is coming. It didn’t happen when it should have but it is going to happen. Jose Mourinho will be the next manager of Manchester United, supposedly. Gentlemen’s agreements, secret deals, houses already purchased, and new players already coming in lead one to believe that the change is coming.

So where does that leave us now? Stuck. Somewhat hopeful of a change in fortunes, a run of good luck and results, possibly even a top four position… But, like Stealers Wheel sang in 1972:

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see it makes no sense at all
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?
‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

1972….2015. We’re stuck in the middle with Louis Van Gaal and there is still so much to play for.

I think I’ll just go to sleep, right here on the floor.

 

Louis Van Gaal Talked Out Of Quitting Yet Again

According to Jamie Jackson at The Guardian, Louis Van Gaal tried again (a third time reportedly) to resign his position as manager of Manchester United but was rebuffed by Ed Woodward. Woodward would like him to see out this season, at least, as he does not want to make a managerial change mid season. The meeting ended with Woodward asking Van Gaal to reconsider as he spoke with his family on his trip back to the Netherlands to celebrate his daughters birthday. Another meeting is planned for today for Woodward to receive Van Gaal’s answer.

The madness of this story is simple: if it is true and Van Gaal has tried to resign once, much less THREE times, we should allow him to move on. His resignation is his admittance that things aren’t working and it would be best for the club if he moves on. Woodward may be grasping at straws to try and keep the beleaguered manager for a few more months as the football only seems to get worse each time United take the pitch, but that is exactly what it appears he is doing. If there are other moves being made (ie., Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola) that cannot come to fruition until the summer, this would show how little confidence Woodward has in Ryan Giggs, the man originally slated to take over from Louis Van Gaal at the end of his contract.

Whatever is happening, Woodward and the club look like daft fools grasping at things that are not there.

 

Selling Diamonds – Ed Woodward’s Rise to the top of Manchester United and How He Can Stay There

“Selling the diamonds.”

This is Edward Gareth Woodward’s way of summarizing what he does for the Manchester United worldwide brand. His somewhat innocuous rise to the top of the biggest footballing franchise in the world started during the clubs most controversial time – the leveraged forceful takeover by the wealthy owners of American Football’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Glazer Family.

Woodward at the time was working for J.P. Morgan & Co as an accountant and tax advisor. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant out of the University of Bristol but his main studies had been Physics. Because the takeover of the club was so incredibly complicated, Woodward was assigned to the case by his employers. The deal, which was almost dead, was resurrected by Woodward in Superman-like fashion. His exploits in securing the deal for the Glazers earned him a position in the new regime – a “financial planning” role.

At the time, David Gill was in charge of the footballing operations for Manchester United and he, of course, worked closely with Sir Alex Ferguson. Manchester United, despite the takeover massacre, would now enter some of its most fruitful years on the pitch, winning 3 Premier League titles in a row and the Champions League. Meanwhile, off the pitch, there was a shift of power taking place. David Gill was growing further away from the Glazers, speaking to them only once a week, while Woodward was speaking to the American owners on a daily basis. On top of that, Woodward was adding to the bottom line with sponsors in a way that had never been done – with the players themselves and with the club badge.

Because of this (adding to the bottom line) Woodward was given the top spot after David Gill left and was ready to send United into another galaxy as he worked with the greatest manager ever. But it wasn’t to be. To Woodward’s shock, Ferguson retired just as he was stepping into the job. What Woodward did take from the relationship between Gill and Ferguson was an understanding that to make transfers happen these two positions needed to be completely in sync. This was cruelly exposed when a deal for Thiago Alcantara was prepared and ready behind the scenes but the manager and his staff dithered on the ball. Eventually it was decided that he was not Manchester United quality and much of Woodward’s hard work and best laid plans were destroyed. The blame fully fell at the feet of the top man at United.

Fast forward a couple of years and some top deals have been accomplished with Woodward and Van Gaal as a team. With Memphis Depay set to sign with PSG, a phone call from his former National Team manager changed the pacey wingers mind and a deal for the young goal scorer was secured rather quickly. Woodward has also carefully forged a relationship with football’s most powerful agent, Jorge Mendes. Deals for Angel DiMaria and Radamel Falcao may not have been possible without that relationship.

Woodward has been forced to learn on the job and has had his failures and his successes. Like many who can hide away when things don’t go as planned, Woodward is in the limelight and on the lips of United supporters constantly. There are few to sing his praises on Social Media and in the news, but behind the scenes he is a well-liked man. It’s been said the Manchester United offices are a better place to be with him in charge, whereas under Gill and Ferguson it was a much more tense place. His bosses see the value he has brought to United and there doesn’t seem to be a chance any change will come at the top of the boardroom at United. Despite all this, there are a few things Woodward could do to change how he is perceived among the millions of United fans around the world (including those in Manchester).

First, he could take on an advisor – someone he could work with closely that would allow him room to voice footballing ideas and receive necessary feedback from a “footballing” man. Woodward is not a footballing man and was looking forward to learning from Sir Alex Fergsuon. The two still speak often but it is not the same as having someone at the club focused on the club. An official Footballing Director would be a great plan, but if not, someone to help Woodward in making key decisions when it comes to player transfers, the Academy, and the future of the footballing side of Manchester United would be ideal. Without the trophies, the sponsorships will die away one at a time.

Second, he must continue to pursue the top names in football (Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo, Muller, Bale, etc.), but he must also use his footballing advisor to better find the quality players United need to fill the gaps. This seems to be the toughest job as “selling” United to sponsors is easier with players like Neymar and Bale in your squad. However, constantly pursuing them and failing leaves the United squad open and vulnerable to the hits that are sure to come in a long footballing season in England.

Third, something must be done about the current failings in the Academy at Manchester United. If any club is known for promoting its youngsters and “winning with kids,” it would be Manchester United. But with no replacement for Brian McClair yet and City taking the initiative with their Academy, United seem to be behind the 8 ball – not something we are used to. These wrongs must be rectified and a focus on bringing through our home grown youngsters must once again take a prominent place at the Manchester United table.

Fourth, Woodward must find a way to restore the faith of the United faithful in the hierarchy of the club. With the hundreds of millions of Pounds that have been snatched from the club to pay outrageous sums of interest, the supporters of the club have been robbed of their club. The focus has been shifting for a number of years away from football on the pitch to football off of it. If Woodward could somehow restore these areas back to items of prominence at the club, our football planning off the pitch will result in fantastic football on the pitch.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, Woodward must pursue Pep Guardiola 100%. Ego’s must be laid aside. Guardiola may end up at Manchester City (if he does, proper respect to them for that), but not pursuing him because you don’t want to be seen like you’ve lost wreaks of too much ego and not enough love for the club! Restoring Manchester United to the heights of world football on the pitch means obtaining the best manager on the planet – Pep Guardiola. If we are the biggest footballing brand on the planet, no player or manager is out of reach. It isn’t always going to work out, but not trying is always worse than failing.

Woodward is in a position of prominence and must put ego aside to achieve the greater good – glory on the pitch for Manchester United. If he does this, his pursuit of sponsors off the pitch will never have been easier.

Match Review: Liverpool 0 -1 Manchester United – Smash and Grab

Like a thief with no business making off with the goods, Manchester United somehow found three points as their reward after their latest trip to Anfield. David DeGea saved United’s blushes, and Louis van Gaal’s job, with Wayne Rooney grabbing his team leading 12th goal this season in all competitions making wasteful Liverpool pay with United’s only shot on goal.“Why can’t we play Liverpool every week,” quipped United fans post match as Louis Van Gaal completed his second double in a row over the red half of Liverpool. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination.

MATCH REVIEW: United’s starting eleven, excluding DeGea, were completely absent in a first half that saw Liverpool have the better of the possession, chances, and they looked the most likely of the teams to score. Their only shot on goal fell to Adam Lallana who placed a tame header right at DeGea. Firmino could only fire wide from the rebound. Jordan Henderson and James Milner both had poor volley’s fail to trouble the second best goal keeper in the world as voted by FIFA.

On the opposite side, United failed to trouble the error-prone Belgium keeper. The mistakes Simon Mignolet has committed this season made this a huge mistake from United. Right before the half, 18 year old Cameron Borthwick-Jackson came on as a sub in place of the injured Ashley Young. His display the second half would prove he deserves more of a run in the first team.

DeGea continued to show why he has been voted as United’s Player of the Season two years in a row. With Liverpool continuing to play with the initiative into the second half, a brilliant double save kept them at bay. First from Emre Can and then the rebound effort from Firmino, the Real Madrid target showed again why Manchester United loves the fax machine in the office’s at Real Madrid City. The Spanish International keeper was relieved Henderson’s later effort, after a cut-back from Firmino, was drilled straight into his arms.

With Liverpool still prodding and attacking the United defense, the smash-and-grab was truly on. As has been their downfall numerous times this season, Liverpool would concede yet again from a set piece.

The corner was taken short and Juan Mata was allowed to cross the ball into the box.  Although he was being marked by 4 defenders, Maraoune Fellaini headed the ball onto the frame of goal. The rebound found Rooney, who wasn’t marked, and he lashed the ball home being forced to wait on the bounce and keep the ball under the bar. This was Rooney’s fifth goal in the last 4 matches – what a 2016 Rooney is having so far!

Jurgen Klopp immediately brought on striker, Christian Benteke and newly signed defender, Steven Caulker (whom he played up front for a second match in a row) in an attempt to find an equalizer, but it never came.

Football can be a cruel game, and in a matchup of two very poor teams, Liverpool, again, was the poorer of the two struggling sides.

NOTES: Wayne Rooney’s goal at Anfield was only his second in the red half of Liverpool in the last 11 years. His quality strike brings him to within 7 goals of Sir Booby Charlton’s record of 249 goals for Manchester United.

Louis Van Gaal has yet to lose to Liverpool as the manager of Manchester United in the Premier League. In the 2015/16 season United has had 4 shots on goal against Liverpool in two matches and all 4 shots have found the back of the net.     

FINAL THOUGHTS: Louis Van Gaal is not out of the woods yet. The United display at Liverpool was eerily similar to what has been on show this season and doesn’t bring hope to many United fans grasping to the belief the Iron Tulip has turned a corner. United managed only 7 shots during the match with their only shot on goal scoring past Mignolet. The three points may keep the boo-boys at bay, for now, but his job at Manchester United hangs on the edge of a knife. Losing another match could see the end of Dutchman’s reign at Manchester United, and rightly so.

Sir Alex Ferguson, Louis Van Gaal & Getting Lost Along the Way

What can be said about Manchester United these days that hasn’t already been said a thousand times?

“The football is boring!” Heard it.

“Fans are falling asleep!” I’ve seen the videos on Twitter.

“The manager is delusional!” I’ve said it myself a few times.

“If you were a top red you’d support your club!” This ‘top red’ nonsense needs some explaining anyhow.

You’ve heard them all too, no doubt, and more.

We’ve all seen the statistic pages about goals scored (or lack of), points obtained (or missed), matches in a row not scoring at home in the first half (what are we at now, 10?), and new records set (in a negative way) – we’ve seen them all. They hurt. They cut deep into a fan base who, save for the last 2 ½ seasons, has basically known only large amounts of success. The failures have come few and far between, but there were failures. We’ve been knocked out of the FA Cup unceremoniously more than a few times (Oh Danny boy); same with the League Cup (will we ever forget MK Dons). This is football.

Bad losses and streaks happened under Sir Alex Ferguson, but we’ll choose to remember it all with rose colored glasses. Truth be told, after Manchester United won the Premier League 8 times in its  first 11 seasons in the newly formed top flight (never missing out on the top prize longer than one season), they only won the trophy once in the next 5 seasons (going three straight seasons without winning it). There were calls for Ferguson to do what he had planned to do and had changed his mind, retire.

For United fans these were tough times. During this barren stretch, the only trophies to make their way into United’s famous trophy cabinet was the FA Cup in 2004 (the year before Rooney’s arrival) and the League Cup in 2006. I’d reckon to say Van Gaal would love to have these trophies now. A bang on-form Van Gaal display meant the League Cup is gone for another season. We are still, somehow, in the FA Cup – no words will be wasted here on the Sheffield United debacle. Our next opponent is the Rams of Derby County FC. They sit second in the Championship and love to score a goal or two at home – I wonder what that’s like. As predictable as Rudd van Nistelrooy scoring goals, Van Gaal will deploy two defensive midfielders with the hope of a replay at Old Trafford. Don’t let the sarcasm get lost on you now…but am I wrong? One thing is for sure – it will be dire. Apparently Van Gaal believes you and I are happy.

Next up for United is a trip to St. James Park. Historically a tough trip for United. These two famous clubs have faced each other 162 times with United winning 83 of those matches. Quite honestly, a win tomorrow for United seems almost impossible and there is little hope in the reserve tank to believe for something else. The players look devoid of confidence and joy, and the manager seems more firmly rooted that his system will be found true. His resume is impressive and Van Gaal has won the lot – something we all pointed to when he succeeded the clueless Moyes. His history of getting fired for failing is also impressive. Sadly it looks like we’ve gotten the delusional-needs-to-be-fired Louis Van Gaal, as opposed to the trophy winning mad man we expected.

A trip to Liverpool next Sunday looms on the near horizon. Van Gaal has not yet lost to the Red half of that famous city just down the M62 from Manchester. A loss for Van Gaal at Newcastle may not be the final straw of his United career, but a loss to Jurgen Klopp’s rebuilding project at Anfield would surely send the Dutchman to his hideaway in Portugal 17 months sooner than planned.

Rebuilding is tough, but money has been spent and good players, even a couple great ones, are currently playing at United with a youth team filled with promise. This dire, boring, drudge-filled, fearful, impassionate football doesn’t have to be a part of that process. Van Gaal, while trying to implement strict policies in his philosophy, somehow lost his way on the pitch. His inability to reverse the trend is alarming, and a spirited 35 minute display against Chelsea is no turn around. Louis Van Gaal needs wins, and uncharacteristically of a win, he needs them to be done in a manner that not only entertains the fans but rejuvenates the players he has lulled into a stupor.

Your guess is as good as mine what the next 6 days of Manchester United football will bring. There is little hope right now for anything but draws and losses and that should never be the expectation of a Manchester United fan, much less of the manager in charge of the whole show.