How Manchester United fans have missed that feeling: late winning goals in huge fixtures such as the FA Cup semi-final. Anthony Martial’s superb winner against Everton on Saturday has granted the 11-times FA Cup winners another final appearance in May; a chance for a first FA Cup trophy since 2004. It begs the obvious question: if United secures the cup, and potentially fourth place in the Premier League, does Louis van Gaal have a future at Old Trafford after all?
There is nothing inherently unacceptable in scrappy a 1-0 victory. After all, with just five games to go in the Premier League season, three points carry a little more significance than normal – especially with Manchester United chasing unlikely qualification for the Champions League. They were three points that keep the pressure on Arsenal and Manchester City, even if United’s chances of returning to the top table of European football remain slim.
Everybody hates Louis van Gaal, and rightly so. In the stands, in the press, probably even in his own house. After all, since the Dutchman’s appointment in May 2014 he has taken it upon himself to tear apart the Theatre of Dreams. Whether its analysis that insults the fans’ intelligence, or the insipid football on show, Van Gaal has successfully alienated the world’s biggest fanbase. Yet, it is not only mistaken to think that all Manchester United’s problems lie at the Dutchman’s feet, but naïve as well. The cancer comes from the top.
It was, perhaps, the absolute nadir of Louis van Gaal’s miserable two-year reign as Manchester United manager. The Reds’ devastating loss at Tottenham Hotspur probably excludes Van Gaal’s team from next season’s Champions League competition, although by then it certainly won’t be the Dutchman in charge. It was, however, the manner of Sunday’s defeat that shocked most. Disjointed to the point of chaos, disfigured beyond horror, this was a United side utterly blown-away by Spurs – the same team Sir Alex Ferguson used to so pithily dismiss. The real horror came not with defeat, though, but Van Gaal’s baffling approach to it.
He just cannot let it go. Every now Angel Di Maria pops up to discuss just how happy he is in Paris after a tumultuous period in northern England. One might think that Di Maria was forced into modern slavery in Manchester. It was the opposite, in fact. The Argentine was fairly compensated to the tune of around £140,000 per week after tax. Yet, with some Manchester United fans still pining for the club’s temporary number seven, why exactly can’t both parties just move on?
Seven games to go. Seven games in which Louis van Gaal could save his job and Manchester United’s season; more should the Reds beat West Ham United at Upton Park in 10 days to progress in the FA Cup. It is a little over half-a-dozen games that will define not only a season, but shape the club’s immediate future. Rant knows the outcome. Well, sort of…
“It’s not who you are underneath. It’s what you do that defines you,” Rachel Dawes tells Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. The billionaire playboy had spent his evening gallivanting with models in the pool of a high-class restaurant before bumping into his childhood friend. The carefree attitude, he pleaded, was nothing but a façade; deep down there’s more than meets the eye. Dawes’ profound, if clumsy, rejoinder leaves an impression on the man who would become the Caped Crusader.
Old Trafford will see Ryan Giggs running down the wing once again – as dramatic news broke Friday morning that the winger is to copy Paul Scholes and come out of retirement. The Welsh Wizard, whom Sir Alex Ferguson memorably described as a “cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind,” is putting his boots back on as part of manager Louis van Gaal’s desperate final attempt to qualify for the Champions League.
There was just a hint of entitlement in the statement. Understandable, perhaps, from a player who has recently become his nation’s record goalscorer; one standing on the verge of achieving a similar feat at club level. Yet, in declaring that he doesn’t ‘need to fight for his place’ Wayne Rooney, a 30-year-old suffering the third year of diminishing returns, has pushed that envelope a little far. After all, there are now better players in almost every position Rooney might covet, for club and country. It is a critical juncture for a fading star.