Five ways Louis van Gaal can save his job

January 28, 2016 Tags: , Reads 13 comments
featured image

Louis van Gaal. For the moment it seems more like Louis van Gone. There’s a certain sense of inevitability that the Dutchman’s time in Manchester is coming to a close. If not for Ed Woodward’s foolish pride, Van Gaal might have been given his marching orders already. Following last weekend’s home defeat to Southampton Van Gaal could be at the point of no return. Lose at Derby County in the FA Cup and Woodward’s hand may be forced.

Comparisons to David Moyes are not entertaining and are, of course, pointless. In reality Manchester United has never been so precariously placed in the Premier League – fifth and well adrift of a comfortable place in the top four. The team is no longer part of any title projection, and even the most optimistic of fans have long since given up on dreaming about celebrating come May. Most are now uneasy about a place in the top. The analytics, says stats nerd Michael Caley, aren’t kind on that front either.

Further projections have United finishing the campaign on 62-63 points, which could be far from the likely fourth place finisher, Tottenham Hotspur, with Maricio Pochettino’s side on pace to finish on 68 points. Given United’s form since December, even 63 feels like a stretch, while there is no longer any promise of an improvement. Van Gaal’s side hasn’t been unlucky in recent weeks, it has simply been bad.

The side is a long way from the point, six months in, when Van Gaal claimed that he should be judged “18 months” into his tenure. In retrospect that may not have been so wise – right now United’s situation does not look good and the judgement is harsh.

Yet, there is also support inside Old Trafford and a steadfast promise from Woodward that the manager will not be sacked, at least until there is time to take stock at the end of the season. Could the Dutchman also have time to turn United’s campaign around?

Become more tactically diverse

Van Gaal’s appointment brought praised for the Dutchman as a brilliant, attacking, tactical mind. It hasn’t worked out that way, aside from a brief phase in which Van Gaal used a 4-4-2 diamond and United won a batch of games last Spring. Instead, fans have been offered a tactically rigid team, devoid of creativity, in which control and defensive solidarity is placed above all else.

"In the hour of desperation now is the time though to show some diversity. After all, is it always really necessary for Van Gaal to deploy two defensive midfielders when United play at home?"

Morgan Schneiderlin was prised away from Southampton to protect the defence and has shown, for the most part, that he is one of United’s most important players. The Frenchman can do the job in defensive midfield on his own.

Now is also the best time to try a different tack in midfield. Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger have not appeared lately due to injuries; Van Gaal could gain much by pairing Ander Herrera with Schneiderlin in a more dynamic approach. Herrera’s energy alongside Schneiderlin’s industrious play appears to be a perfect match. It’s remains baffling why Marouane Fellaini continues to gain Van Gaal’s support – one of a series of bizarre tactical choices by the manager.

Stop alienating players

Van Gaal’s feuds are nothing new – it is a feature of his whole managerial career. Rivaldo and Johan Cruyff at Barcelona; Ronald Koeman at Ajax; Marc Van Bommel, Luca Toni and pretty much every key executive at Bayern Munich.

Now at United Van Gaal has courted a fight with Robin Van Persie – a longtime disciple – Javier Hernandez, Angel Di Maria, Rafael da Silva, and Victor Valdes. The list isn’t exactly short.

In fact it could play a huge role in Van Gaal’s undoing at United. As the divide within the club grows, eventually players might become a factor in the political in-fighting, as have Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Bobby Charlton, and David Gill. Throughout Van Gaal’s tenure, but particularly this season, his relationship with his squad has been brought into question – not least when he was forced to meet with captain Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick to discuss the team’s  style of play. Nothing has changed.

The players hardly look like a team that is truly United – more a group of individuals and not a highly functioning cohesive unit.

Van Gaal needs the players behind him without exception if he’s going to turn his fortunes around. It cannot help that rumours are still circulating that Ander Herrera and Juan Mata may have no future at the club.

Trade control for enterprise

It’s no secret that Van Gaal craves control. The Dutchman repeatedly preaches the need to keep possession, and even speaks about United’s ‘domination’ after bad results. Possession is, of course, useless unless United can turn it into chances created and goals scored – something his team is not doing at the moment. That the Reds have gone 11 straight home games without scoring a goal in the first half is not good enough.

The alternative is to trade-off a bit of the defensive mentality and control by taking more risks than the team has generally done this season. In fact United’s slow patient approach enables the opposition to overload defensively, getting every player behind the ball. Again, in home fixtures, the team rarely needs to field two defensive midfielders. The trade-off for more attacking impetus, when the team is clearly struggling in that area, is a good one.

Get the fans back onside

United’s once loyal fanbase is picking Van Gaal apart. Rightly so many will add. On social media the hashtag #LVGOut has been a staple for some time, with many fans now including it as a slogan in their profiles. The Dutchman’s interaction with the media has raised the ire of many too, morphing from entertaining to frustrating.

"Perhaps there was a warning from Van Gaal’s first press conference as Old Trafford boss when he claimed to be “confident, arrogant, dominant, honest, hard-working and innovative.”"

For the most part Van Gaal has been true to his word. They were qualities that fans warmed to in the Dutchman’s early days at United, but a lack of tactical innovation, with sometimes stale decision-making and illogical substitutions, have left a loyal fanbase irate. After all, while match-going fans have a long history of cheering on the team at Old Trafford whatever the circumstances, the echo of boos ringing round the ground is growing ever louder. The sound of “Glory Glory Man United” over the tannoy now seems to mock the team, not support it.

Van Gaal’s responses after too many shocking results haven’t helped his cause. The Dutchman talks about mythical chances created, where there were very few, and equates dominating possession to dominating a game. It wins few admirers and frustrates fans further in the context of the poor fare Van Gaal serves. United’s perfect 4-0 record against Liverpool under the Dutchman is all well and good, but Van Gaal must start winning back the fans if he is to save his job.

Stop Ed Woodward briefing the press

Almost as frustrating as the team’s style of play is Woodward’s penchant for briefing the press in the immediate aftermath of a loss. After another poor result brings back pages seemingly flooded with stories about United’s upcoming spending on Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and others.

Not only is the narrative hard to believe, but it is insulting both to the media and the fans. Woodward’s Galactico policy has not worked; signings that fit the mould of what the squad needs are better than those that will sell shirts. Angel Di Maria and Falcao were top of the shirt charts last season – perhaps that matters more to the moneymakers behind the scenes than results on the pitch.

This is not Van Gaal’s fault, of course, but is it another source of frustration among a supporter base already in uproar. Patience has run out; time may do so too. Van Gaal has limited opportunities to make changes, or his career will end in a way that is not fitting of his many achievements. The old dog needs to learn some new tricks. Fast.


Mik Neville - January 28, 2016 Reply

haven’t read it? But lemme guess:
– quit
– retire
– fired
– die (harsh, & I don’t want him to)
– win the league?

bobbynoble - January 28, 2016 Reply

“The old dog needs to learn some new tricks. Fast.”

Not holding my breath.

Just pension him off.

Giggyjon - January 28, 2016 Reply

1. More tactically diverse – possible yes but staggering that it has not happened to date from a coach with such a technical coaching pedigree.

2. Stop alienating players – Not going to happen – sorry. Cannot remember seeing such consistently poor man management ever at United.

3. Trade control for enterprise – possible and kind of goes hand in hand with 1. Not holding my breath.

4. Get the fans back on side – Depends if he can deliver on 1 to 3 and 1 and 3 seem increasingly unlikely and 2 seems impossible for the ‘arrogant one’

5. Stop Woodard briefing the press – Not going to happen in the short term anyway, this appears to be a tool that Woodward believes gives him credibility. In reality it makes him and our club look amateurish in the extreme.

Conclusion – May be next week, may be next month, may be the end of the season, but Louis (and we) are fucked.

Giggyjon - February 1, 2016 Reply

Thought of another…….

6. Your employer is a fucking idiot and doesn’t even make an approach for one of the worlds best managers when he comes on the market, even though said manager has talked about wanting the United job in the past.

Naffa t - January 29, 2016 Reply

If the rumours about him staying to see out his contract and the gutless board don’t sack him OT will be half empty next season with the fans that do go watching a relegation battle just like Chelsea only maybe a lot worse

karlo - January 29, 2016 Reply

yeah I`ve defended LvG all season on every blog and youtube channel I`ve been on , I thought his signings although few were good we`ll be eternally grateful to him for signing Martial and Memphis and I thought before December happened that with a few more additions like that and the football would improve along with the results even during the bad run in december I tried to keep seeing the bigger picture and admired how he selflessly is building a young team for the future but my first thought after the Southampton game my first thought was “He`s got to go ” the overuse of two DM as the double pivot against lesser sides at home is beyond ridiculous I know we have a lot of injuries and LvG managed admirably last season during a worse injury crisis but this season he`s use of fellaini at DM for some many games even though its plain for all to see that the poor lad is just not up to it and at he`s age and with his physicality this won`t change , but still he starts and starts when theres no need for him with Schneiderlin in the team this decision is baffling , he really needs to change the teams approach which he is capable of doing considering he`s change to a 433 at the tail end of last season when we needed to kick on, I`m just living in hope he does or at least use Herrera as part of his midfield two just do something different anything at this stage or he`ll be outside the top four and out of a job he`s last of an illustrious career surely that would be enough to motivate change

Rich - January 29, 2016 Reply

I’m so disgusted with Van Gaal’s media rants. He’s worried he says that the ‘fans will believe [what they’re told]. Fans booing at Old Trafford has nothing to do with media. One shot on target has nothing to do with media. What is ‘media’ to VG anyway? Some ex footballer with a Twitter account is now representing everyone whoever dared to posit an opinion in a public forum? Poor VG. If he wants an honest account of where his career is at he will get it from the people he is slapping round the face at press conferences, not from the slippery reassurances of money man Ed and the Executive economists. Great article by the way. I’d be surprised to see things turn around but then again Leicster might win the league so I don’t know anything.

Adam Joseph - January 29, 2016 Reply

thanks mate i appreciate the feedback! really agree with what you said also. think the media has been a bit ridiculous spreading false stories (as always) but he hasn’t helped himself at all.

Fusilli Jerry - January 29, 2016 Reply

Have seen nothing to suggest he’s going to change. Have seen everything to suggest he’d rather go down in flames, then blame injuries, the media – anything other than himself.

That 4-game run last season happened for one reason only: name players whose wretched form and attitude had held the team back, were either injured or suspended. Otherwise he would have kept on picking them. People forget how incoherent the football was for almost the entirety of last season too, all they remember is that 4-game run and the Top 4 placing. Well that run ended as soon as Carrick got crocked, he hadn’t a clue what to do, and 13 points out of the last 18 were dropped.

But what doesn’t get dropped is a failing line-up, formation and tactical outlook. Except Rooney did get dropped, finally, and lo and behold remembered how to play football. Then as soon as he knows he’s a guaranteed starter again, this season’s normal service from him is resumed against Southampton.

This is why Hernandez was sold, Wilson and Januzaj exiled, and Pereira not given a look-in. 1 way he can save his bloody job: competition for places.

Colin - January 29, 2016 Reply

blocked on my school network lol

Nikhil Jitendran - January 29, 2016 Reply

Think we’re well past the stage, lads, when we can speculate on methods of how he can save his job. #mufc

Subterranean Steve - January 30, 2016 Reply

With Wudwud on his side, things will have to get quite a bit worse before LVG is sacked. ‘Worse’ to me is losing a sequence of games e.g. three or four in a row. The bar is currently set so low at United that LVG will probably keep his job until the end of the season at least, because such a losing sequence is unlikely.

Add your comment