After Van Gaal’s greatest embarrassment comes Woodward’s dismal failure

March 12, 2016 Tags: , Reads 25 comments
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Sometimes it is the messenger as much as the message that resonates most. The ranking is up for debate, of course, but there is little doubt that Manchester United’s Europa League defeat at Liverpool on Thursday night was one of the club’s most embarrassing in the past three decades. Paul Scholes knew it, Rio Ferdinand saw it, the travelling United supporters left Anfield certain of it. So what is it, exactly, that Louis van Gaal and his paymaster Ed Woodward cannot see?

The message from Scholes and Ferdinand was brutal; as it should have been after Van Gaal’s team served up a performance of such total ineptitude that pundits, supporters and even players were lost for the vocabulary to adequately describe United’s nadir – save, of course, for the observation that defeat by just two goals was a flattering scoreline for the Dutchman’s utterly bereft team.

It shouldn’t be like this after Van Gaal’s 21 months in the job and countless millions spent reshaping his squad. In the aftermath of such ineptitude, Van Gaal should have been fired. Not within months or weeks, but moments after the final whistle brought a merciful close to proceedings. On such occasions are managers rightly judged and, in defeat, Van Gaal and his team embarrassed 2,700 visiting fans and a 135-year-old institution. He should be gone and stay gone.

Yet, stories this week, presumably planted by Woodward’s cronies, suggest that Van Gaal is certain to retain his job, at least while Champions League football is theoretically possible, via the league or the continent’s second competition. Van Gaal may even see out the third year of a disastrous spell at Old Trafford with the Board split on appointing the out-of-work José Mourinho or the Dutchman’s silent deputy Ryan Giggs.

While nobody, bar Van Gaal and Woodward, can stomach a scenario in which the Dutchman remains in Manchester beyond May, it is not inconceivable. Such is the depth to which Woodward has taken the club on behalf of owners that prioritise profits over entertainment.

Scholes can’t stomach the thought of Van Gaal remaining in post, of course. Here is a man whose uncomfortable assertion that he doesn’t “want to see the manager sacked” was all but exposed for a lie by the observation that United’s “standards are falling way short.”

“United didn’t have a clue,” added Scholes on BT Sport. “United should be competing to win the Premier League and Champions League every season. They have spent £300 million and they are sixth in the league. They should be competing with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Imagine seeing this at Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich – you’d be out right away.”

At far lesser clubs too. It is a dismal indictment of Woodward’s impotence and weakness. After all, it was not just that Van Gaal’s team lost in humiliating fashion at Anfield, but that it offered up a performance that manager and players accepted as all but inevitable.

Yet, Van Gaal not only defended his team in the aftermath – laughably asserting that £27 million Marouane Fellaini was the “best player on the pitch” – but he went on to argue that his philosophy is paying dividends. Some cojones that.

“It is working,” Van Gaal trolled. “I do think it is working. The style is also working. When you don’t have too many players and you have to play in three competitions it is very difficult. After the defeat in Midtjylland, you have sacked me already and then we stood up and we got into the next round and that is still possible against Liverpool. Against West Ham United it is also possible.”

Few supporters believe it.

"Van Gaal not only defended his team in the aftermath but he went on to argue that his philosophy is paying dividends. Some cojones that."

On the pitch Van Gaal’s team was second to every ball, outplayed by a Liverpool side that is far from vintage, but progressing under the effervescent Jürgen Klopp. The sheer scale of United’s demise under Van Gaal was magnified in starkest circumstances. It was, after all, the fixture that matters most to United supporters, yet one where there was clear blue water between the German’s transitional side and a Van Gaal team closing in on its second season of development.

The Dutchman offered up a team of total imbalance in the face of Klopp’s pixel-sharp philosophy. The German’s team pressed; Van Gaal’s sat back, too often in desperation. It was a crass indictment of the veteran’s much-discussed approach.

Thursday’s game was a clash of eras as much as belief. Klopp’s team was high-energy and higher-tempo to Van Gaal’s plodding conservatism. The United manager is a shadow of a different age; Klopp seemingly a beacon of development. In the end, Van Gaal has only luck and David de Gea to thank that this was not an embarrassing scoreline to go with the disconcerting gulf in class.

Not only was United’s performance well below par, but so was the manager’s. Van Gaal got key decisions wrong – as he has for much of the past two seasons. It was odd to use teenage striker Marcus Rashford in a wide berth, but more confusing still to switch to a mind-bending three-man defence in the second half.

Rashford was sacrificed to Van Gaal’s decision to deploy a rapidly declining Michael Carrick in the back three. Not for the first time the Geordie fell well short in that role, while a little further forward Fellaini’s touch mirrored that of a fumbling teenager on a first date. It is shocking that the Belgian remains at Old Trafford, but not as much as Van Gaal’s decision to use a patently unfit player for the full 90.

United did not create a single decent chance on the night, while De Gea produced a succession of outstanding stops to keep the visitors in the tie, in theory at least. United conceded eight shots on target at Anfield, the joint-most Van Gaal’s team has faced in a single game this season. Liverpool? Just the one.

"Not only was United’s performance well below par, but so was the manager’s. Van Gaal got key decisions wrong – as he has for much of the past two seasons. "

Yet, Van Gaal dismissed his critics in the lead-up to the game, accusing fans of “living in the past” if they  expect Champions League knock-out football. Much like the Dutchman, whose contribution over the past two campaigns has served only to take the club backwards.

It was perplexing that Van Gaal retained his job in December when four defeats in succession threatened to drag United’s campaign into calamity. Now that the club has reached a new nadir, Woodward’s desperate hope that Van Gaal will turn things around is little more than an empty prayer for a miracle that is unlikely to come.

The damage has already been done. To many it is Van Gaal’s total inability to generate more than the sum of considerable parts that is most damning. To Ferdinand, Van Gaal’s failure is as much in the players he has sold as those he has bought and coached.

“The fairytale has gone,” said the former United defender. “The players he has let go: Ángel Di María, Nani, Patrice Evra, Javier Hernández, Shinji Kagawa, Danny Welbeck, Rafael, Darren Fletcher, are they worse than the players out there? They are better than that team out there, that’s the problem.”

Van Gaal is in no mood to tolerate alternative opinions though. “Is it important what Rio Ferdinand is saying, is that important to you?” he responded, dismissing, not for the first time, the opinion held by successful former players. Van Gaal has never been one to fall on the sword of humility. Less so now that his time at Old Trafford is exposed for a busted flush.

Whatever merit in Ferdinand’s assessment, Van Gaal has achieved far too little with the resources he has. That, if nothing else, should prompt Ed Woodward to act.

But to blame the Dutchman alone misses the point.  Woodward had failed too. After all, while the executive drives huge revenues off-the-pitch, they will inevitably be hit by the team’s failure on it. It is the result of chaotic executive management that devalues a sound sporting base in the face of global brand exposure.

That Woodward will remain in the post long after Van Gaal has departed says much for the club’s new priorities. It is indeed a new era.


Graham Lavery - March 12, 2016 Reply

the problem is that I don’t feel that LvG feels embarrassed or that Woodward feels a failure.

ACL - March 12, 2016 Reply

The problem is that Woowah doesn’t see it as a failure. He’s protecting the bottom line and as such it’s a win for him.

Ted McKinney - March 12, 2016 Reply

It drove me crazy that they lost 2 a red carded team at that! We have similar problem w/ our Canadiens here-Mgmt loves the coach

Martin - March 12, 2016 Reply

Spot on analysis Ed. the self-proclaimed ‘biggest club in the world’ have one world class player in De Gea and that’s only down to a malfunctioning fax machine. They have no recognisable identity or style of play, a patchwork quilt of frayed material unraveling through the season. Utter impotence and paralysis at the executive level – it comes to something when the basket-case of Newcastle recognises that change is needed and acts whilst United sail on like a leaking row boat with Captain Louis shouting ‘land ahoy’ as he is submerged. It’s indecent to even mention United in the same breath as Barca, Bayern, PSG, Borrusia, Atletico and that speaks to an absolutely monumental failure of proper stewardship at both club and team level. I also doubt the sanity of the sponsors – what exactly are they sponsoring? Not a winner; not excitement nor flair or dash or romance. Rather a horribly expensive, missasembled, ineffectual team that is both a laughing stock and boring everyone to tears. If ever youngsters needed an example that you can reach the top of a profession and not have a f***ing clue about what it is that you’re supposed to be doing, sadly, United offer far too many examples. Rant over.

mark - March 12, 2016 Reply

Best comment I have ever seen, Martin got it spot on.

Martin - March 13, 2016 Reply

Much appreciated Mark. Anger and sadness lend themselves to passionate writing.

Denton Davey - March 12, 2016 Reply

“Paul Scholes knew it, Rio Ferdinand saw it, the travelling United supporters left Anfield certain of it. So what is it, exactly, that Louis van Gaal and his paymaster Ed Woodward cannot see?”

And what, exactly, did SilentRyan say afterwards ?

I am just astonished that there are people who seem to believe that LvG’s right-hand man should be given the reins – as if he hasn’t been thoroughly compromised by his involvement in this clusterfuck.

If it’s decided that Sir Bobby and Sir Alex still have any input and still can’t abide with Jo$e then choosing Paul Scholes would be a better idea than giving the reins to SilentRyan – Scholes, at least, says what he knows so that we know what he thinks.

Scholes has been very vocal on insisting that there is “a United way” of playing football whereas SilentRyan just gives us that ThousandMileStare, with a strong suggestion that nothing is going on behind his eyes.

John Hough - March 13, 2016 Reply

You have to ask how ambitious are the people that run United it’s seems they are in it to take out the maximum amount of cash for the minimum input and when it ceases to fill their pockets they will dispose of it .Lets prey that happens sooner rather than later

John tring - March 13, 2016 Reply

Woodward is a clown, LVG is the pathetic joker in the ring. Together they’re destroying Utd faster than a falling star.

steven milliken - March 13, 2016 Reply

great stuff Ed 👍

Patrick - March 13, 2016 Reply

You just delete comments you don’t like eh, Ed? You don’t like people mentioning the United fans embarrassing themselves at the game singing about the death of women, children and men while the victims families had to sit there and listen to it eh, Ed? United fans deserve what they’re getting.

Ed - March 13, 2016 Reply

Patrick – not sure what you mean about deleting comments. The club has put out a statement, which I agree with. Supporters groups such as MUST and IMUSA have tried hard to eliminate these songs – I hope that they can. Mocking rivals is an affliction that affects too many sets of supporters, including those at Anfield, Elland Road, Maine Road and the Etihad who have ‘enjoyed’ using Munich to bait United fans over the years. I trust that your outrage extends there too.

bobbynoble - March 13, 2016 Reply

You’re a fucking prick Patrick. There are senseless, knuckle-dragging arseholes at all clubs who use disgraceful tactics to insult and offend opposition fans. United has its share and so does Liverpool. As a long term Red I’ve heard disgusting Munich songs sung at Leeds, Sunderland and Anfield.

“United fans deserve what they are getting” shows that you clearly have an anti-United axe to grind. You’re definitely not on top of any moral high ground.

Frank - March 13, 2016 Reply

Anyone who sings songs about dead people is an idiot. United seem to have a greater share of them than most. They’ve now been outed and using the “but they do it too” doesn’t wash any more. There was no provocation on Thursday and you know it. Shame on you.

Ed - March 13, 2016 Reply

This is not a subject for moral equivalency as a defence… including “United seem to have a greater share than most” or the various forms of “they do it too”. It’s wrong.

Subterranean Steve - March 14, 2016 Reply

Fran, what is the purpose of “Shame on you?” You refer to the idiots in the third person, ‘they’ – fair enough, but then your barb at the end refers to ‘you’. Of course ‘you’ means we the readers or we the United fans or Ed the editor, like we are all in on it or something. You’re just United fans-bashing and are quite happy to lump us all together. Generalised criticisms and stereotypical attitudes is what keeps the nasty sectarian side of football tribalism alive and well.

Paul - March 13, 2016 Reply

That’s called deflecting!

Leon Of London - March 13, 2016 Reply

when will the media focus on what LVG is doing right, and what he can work on? Man City have worse form than MUFC at the moment

James Bruce Lee - March 13, 2016 Reply

love this piece..!!!

Ryan - March 13, 2016 Reply

a bit of an overreaction, it was bad, no doubt, but there have been worse performances against Liverpool in the last decade…

Ryan - March 13, 2016 Reply

some came under Ferguson. Like the game when Kuyt scored a hat trick…

Rich - March 13, 2016 Reply

Oh yeah I remember that game. That was the year we won our 12th premier league title. 😉

RedG - March 13, 2016 Reply

Just wait til Liverpool fans sing about Munich on Thursday. Just like everything else, the media and league will keep quiet and continue the love-in. Coutinho dives. Nothing. Beteke dives. Smart player. Ashley Young dives. Media and world go crazy. Enemy of football.

Paul - March 13, 2016 Reply

Van Gaal’s team Van Gaal’s team Van Gaal’s team Van Gaal’s team!!! Not Man U! You are nothing but a troll, you’re defiantly not a fan or supporter of Man U, please don’t you are the type we don’t want around our Man U!

Ricky Jana - March 14, 2016 Reply

reading this I feel scared,if LVG stays beyond,am sorry,but I want United to lose vs liv and west ham

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