The empire falls flat

December 20, 2015 Tags: , Reads 13 comments
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Another match, another game without a win, another non-performance. Mediocrity is now the new normal at Manchester United. In truth, defeat to Norwich City at the weekend should not have come as a surprise. Nothing in recent displays suggested that Louis van Gaal’s team is on the cusp of ending an uninspiring run. And true to form, bereft of guile and confidence, the team went down to an opponent whose solid, if predictable, game plan worked.

The visitors made limited possession count at Old Trafford; United once again looked blunt up front despite hogging 70 per cent of the ball. It is no surprise that the home side enjoyed only two shots on target, and its perhaps fitting that the under-performing Red Devils should be led out by a sub-par captain who marked his 500th game for the club with a loss.

Yet, with another defeat comes a new set of questions. Some with no obvious answers.

Keeping the faith

“The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you the dawn is coming” – Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight.

Van Gaal’s United tenure is now in its darkest hour. No wins in six, three defeats in succession, back-to-back defeats in the league to promoted clubs, and a first loss at Old Trafford to a promoted team since 2001. Yet, the greatest concern is not just poor results, but also the manner in which defeats are coming. United’s lack of cutting edge is astonishing and Van Gaal’s football ‘philosophy’ has clipped the team’s wings. So much so that the club’s style of play now resembles one famously epic encounter between Portugal and Mexico in … The Simpsons.

Van Gaal knows more than anyone that this iteration of United will struggle to challenge for a Champions League spot, let alone make a charge at the title. The Dutchman admitted on Saturday to being “worried” about his future as manager and so he should be.

Optimists can point to the nadir of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign, which culminated in the infamous banner declaring that it had been “3 years of excuses and it’s still crap. Ta ra Fergie.” The Scot turned it around, of course, leaving some evidence that a coach of Van Gaal’s stature is not yet finished at Old Trafford.

Then there’s the January transfer window and the opportunity it brings to strengthen a squad in need of high quality attacking and defensive reinforcements. That said, given supporters’ frustrations and rumours of discord among the players, it will take an investment of faith from the board to back Van Gaal in January. And to push the analysis to its cynical extreme, perhaps the only positive in keeping the Dutchman – for Ed Woodward and the Glazers at least – is that the focus of supporters’ ire remains on the 64-year-old and not the board.

Van Gaal may hope that the dawn is coming, but as Harvey Dent once noted “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Van Gaal has become more a villain with every passing game.

“Jorge, get me Jose!”

“Mourinho,” wrote journalist Diego Torres in Prepare to Lose: The Mourinho Era, “thought that Ferguson was, besides his ally, also his friend and godfather. He was convinced that they were tied by a relationship of genuine trust.

“He thought that his fabulous collection of titles constituted an ‘endorsement’ unreachable to any other contenders. When he knew that Ferguson had chosen Moyes, the Everton coach, he was struck by a terrible disbelief. Moyes hadn’t won absolutely anything!”

It is the story of a man who feels that it is his destiny to manage United. It is also the story of United’s board who, despite all reassurances to the contrary, completely botched the post-Ferguson transition.

Mourinho’s character and style of football is not to everyone’s liking, but to overlook the Portuguese in favour of a manager who had no experience winning trophies, let alone managing a super-club, smacks of negligence. To miss out on Mourinho once is sloppy; to let him slip by again would be incompetence. Mourinho may be tarnished after a turbulent third season in his second stint at Stamford Bridge, but he is still a winner.

Given United’s relationship with Jorge Mendes getting a hold of the two-time Champions League winner should not be difficult. It’s a question of how much United’s hierarchy wants Mourinho at the club. After all, with the success comes the baggage. Mourinho’s ‘scorched earth’ approach brings trophies, but at the expense of long-term development.

Moreover, the former Real Madrid manager’s innate desire for conflict does not sit well at United. The 52-year-old should be under no illusions that a higher standard of behaviour is required at Old Trafford. Could Mourinho could keep his cool if Pep Guardiola turns up at Manchester City? He would certainly relish the battle.

There are potential gains for the manager too. If he takes over from Van Gaal and contrives to win the title this season he will become the “genius” of Woodward’s folklore. Whether he could deliver the Premier League with panache is another question.

Yet, it is no secret that Mourinho want the United job. Maybe the stars have aligned. United has an opportunity to recruit the manager the club once rejected. This time Woodward may just take it.

Guardiola to pep up United

The number of ‘big name’ coaches on the move this summer is significant. Guardiola is expected to leave Bayern Munich, with Carlo Ancelotti succeeding the Spaniard from the start of next season. United has already missed on Ancelotti; the club cannot afford to do the same with Pep.

After all, Guardiola has already admitted to liking the Old Trafford “atmosphere” in Martí Perarnau’s book Pep Confidential. “I could see myself coaching here one day,” he is said to add. If true, United should test that sentiment by attempting to steal the Spaniard from under City’s nose.

Guardiola may not have experience managing in the Premier League, but that is unlikely to be a barrier to success. Mourinho, Ancelotti and Manuel Pellegrini won the Premier League in their first season in the country. It’s no stretch to think that Pep could do the same.

The Spaniard inherited a mess at Barcelona, although had Lionel Messi’s genius to call on. The real credit is in fashioning the Catalan club’s midfield into one of the most efficient, ruthless and creative forces in football’s history.

Guardiola can also deliver the style of football United fans crave. Pep’s Barcelona, at the club’s peak, was one of the most spellbinding teams of the last 50 years. And Bayern comes close. Both clubs demand European success – and Guardiola’s remit at United would be to reestablish domestic dominance and return the Old Trafford club to the European élite.

Would Guardiola commit to a ‘long-term’ project or move on after three or four years? With the club having lost out on Ancelotti and Jürgen Klopp it is surely irrelevant.

Give it to Giggs

The alternative, of course, is to appoint the man Van Gaal believes is his successor. Ryan Giggs would be a romantic choice if a risky one, although there is no doubt that he wants the post. Giggs’ march to the technical area, with United struggling to break down Norwich had, to use another movie metaphor, the sense of Darth Vader turning against the Emperor.

Giggs’ appointment would not come without precedent either. Barcelona took a risk with Guardiola and Juventus did the same with Antonio Conte. Yet, for every Guardiola and Conte there’s also Ciro Ferrera and Filippo Inzaghi. Club legends do not always make the grade as head coach.

Still, Giggs is being groomed for the hot seat and his appointment would offer a boost to the collective morale. The Welshman requires no guide to the Premier League and – forgive the cliché – is United to the core, including understanding the requirement for fast attacking football. Giggs would also command the respect of players and fans – commodities that Van Gaal has seemingly lost.

Super-coaches may bring back winning football but, as pretentious as it sounds, can they bring back United’s style? Giggs at least knows what that is.

Appoint a sporting director

United might well hire one of Europe’s super-coaches; the chances that they stay on for 26 trophy laden years is non-existent. If the club is set on a course of appointing a head coach every few years then the emphasis will remain on Woodward to secure the right players and coaches. It is a goal for which the club’s executive vice chairman appears ill-equipped, with his focus on marquee signings made for marketing purposes.

Appointing a sporting director will not solve all ills, but it is a move that promises expertise lacking in the current set up. Indeed, the role of manager is probably now too big for one person, especially if Woodward continues to act as the de facto director of football.

That the club is now looking to appoint full-time scouts and revamp the youth set-up is a sign that the hierarchy recognises some faults. Should the club also appoint a sporting director he will fill a gap on the administrative and recruitment side of the club.

Plan of attack

Whatever United’s move, Van Gaal knows that he is on borrowed time. The Dutchman recently told United fans not to live in the past. If he knows his history Van Gaal will understand that the roots of mediocrity were sown when the Glazers acquired the club in 2005. The family enjoyed the good fortune of Sir Alex Ferguson’s management – and maximized growth with minimal expenditure. Now they’re feeling the pinch after years of under-investment forced a splurge over the last two seasons in an attempt to rebuild the team.

Yet, the Glazers can no longer rely on genius. If only to protect the bottom line the next move is critical if the club is to remain challengers.

Will the force awaken or will the empire fall flat? At this stage the latter appears to be more likely.


Emmy - December 21, 2015 Reply

In this season United has 61 shots on target which is extremely a less down of United calibre. LVG can’t attract good players or convince them in the market,football is far beyond what he thought. He has lost coaching club instinct he can only manage a country side. Mark my word by this time on Boxing Day if LVG still with United we will be 6th or 7th cause we are depreciating more and more. LVG has lost the idea,we need mourinho he can bring fantastic players by January and win us the league. Six straight game no win then why debating of discussing and accommodate or tolerate failure? We dwell in past while others has move on far ahead of United,we are considering failure,we said we have culture of keeping coaches? Football is no more on that level. Get MOURINHO or continue decline, name any player in United team that can bring fear to opponents? Is Damian better than Raphael? You wanna use Fellani as your striker after you sold chicharito and welbeck? You wanna use blind,jones as your defenders? And you wanna win trophy? LVG has turn United to laboratory where he can practicalise and we fans we will protest and fight to our nails. Get us MOURINHO

Jack Moore - December 24, 2015 Reply

Mourhino, like Van Gaal,is not a Manchester United coach. We need someone who understands and can deliver the club`s philosophy on attacking football. Most United fans would rather we lost trying to win than draw trying to avoid defeat. Sack LVG now and install Martin O`Neill and Roy Keane and stop running after Guardiola like a lovesick teenager.

NazManUnited - December 22, 2015 Reply

Where did Ed Woodward find LVG? It’s akin to the Jedi handing the Galaxy to the Sith Lord! Crazy Bonkers Madness loopy loops

Subterranean Steve - December 22, 2015 Reply

Seven shots on target in four matches against the likes of the mighty Norwich, Bournemouth and West Ham. It beggars belief.

The Theatre of Dreams used to be the place to go to have your dreams fulfilled. Now it’s the place to go to be sent to sleep. Perhaps then to dream of better times.

Pete Naphasorn Webb - December 22, 2015 Reply

Ed needs sacking,the board at utd a joke..

Jon - December 22, 2015 Reply

Think a lot of reds have been spoilt with the years of success!
This will not be a quick fix. The team has massive gaps in it. But it also has young talent.
The next appointment must be the right one.
I think giggs could be a project that is a risk, but one worth the risk.

Simon Zambelli - December 22, 2015 Reply

im a worried man Ed. for me it’s Pep or stick with BigBalls!

Fusilli Jerry - December 22, 2015 Reply

Despite their bungled pre-season and summer transfer window, Chelsea’s defence of a title they coasted to last time out would have looked very different had it not been for the punishment of Eva Carneiro for her Facebook post – a doctor’s demotion which dissolved in one instant, the players’ belief in the man giving them orders.

However, Chelsea’s title defence would have looked even better still if their depleted squad hadn’t been depleted by the manager himself. Mourinho’s judgment in letting go the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku has to be of concern to supporters of United – a club whose own European record over recent years, since the fading memory of a rainy night in Moscow, could have told a different story had the likes of Pique, Pogba, now Hernandez been given a proper chance in our colours, alongside acquisitions like Herrera and Mata being deployed and man-managed properly.

The alternative to recognising and optimising what you’ve already got, is an extended cycle of headline-generating transfers in the hope of something eventually gelling. Which very probably makes Mourinho and Woodward a collision waiting to happen, as Sam Wallace aptly had it.

The Portugese would have been the best available choice in 2013: I don’t believe Ferguson’s recent suggestion that Mourinho was no more available to United that summer than any of the other 5 managers the Scot now implies he would have appointed ahead of Moyes, if only they’d been in play. But the best choice for United in December 2015 is already signed up by Bayern, to succeed a coach coming to Manchester to lead the team in light blue.

Worrying times ahead.

DayusDred. - December 22, 2015 Reply

It is amazing the kind of comments i read on this platform. I wonder what makes people believe Mourinho will be sucessful @ United haven failed @ chelsea. Is Mourinho coming to wave the magic wands with players like Mata that he rejected @ chelsea? Will he suddenly turn an underperforming and out of form Rooney into a player he was yrs ago? What will he do to ease the injuries that have plagued the team? Wouldn’t the fate that be fell Mata @ chelsea be fall Depay. What magic will he perform that he couldn’t @ chelsea. I will say without any contradiction that even Pep will struggle with a team full of old players that are on the way out, young and talented players that needs time to mature and players that are just averge. United is going through the same period as we did between 2004-2006 when Fergie was rebuilding with young Ronaldo, Rooney, Fletcher and i can still remember all that were said @ the time about Fergie loosing it. United is @ cross road. We have to be careful what we wish for.

Opti - December 22, 2015 Reply


Amosthered - December 23, 2015 Reply

At is not a hard word

bobbynoble - December 24, 2015 Reply

I wish for v Gaal to fuck off to the Algarve and I’ll deal with comes after.

Jack Moore - December 24, 2015 Reply

Must be hard for Louis, the big bad media saying bad things about him. Well Louis, it goes with the turf and your grossly inflated salary. Don`t be arrogant. You are not doing a very good job and being very well paid for it. Expect criticism. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. If you don`t like it then………

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