Van Gaal stares down the barrel as protégé Mourinho falls

December 17, 2015 Tags: , Reads 15 comments
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To bastardise the late, great, Brian Clough, all managers end in failure. The two-times European Cup winner with Nottingham Forrest eventually took the Midlands club to relegation, before retiring in comparative ignominy. Those who do not fall into that trap rank among the very best in the history of the game. No manager, it seems, is too big, too celebrated, or too laden with silverware to fall. Louis van Gaal take note.

José Mourinho’s brutal dismissal, on Thursday, by long-time sponsor Roman Abramovich should send a resounding signal the Dutchman’s way. Seven months on from claiming the Premier League title, Mourinho’s first managerial failure is complete, with Chelsea left a single point above the relegation zone. Despite three Premier League titles, Mourinho’s bank of credit at Chelsea was not significant enough for the London club to wait on the 52-year-old to fix a litany of problems that were mostly of his own making.

Van Gaal, having made only modest progress in 18 months at Old Trafford, should be under no illusions as to the security of his own position. After all, United risks another season without silverware – the club is out of the Capital One Cup, dumped into the second tier of European football, and falling behind Manchester City in the Premier League. The Dutchman’s reputation is hanging by a thread.

While the veteran’s impact on United’s dressing room is not yet as divisive as Mourinho’s broken relationship with his now former players, the signs are growing. The rumours sweeping Manchester are of players frustrated, a squad not universally bought into the Dutchman’s philosophy, and the toll of results heading south now felt. Van Gaal, it seems, is not master of all at Old Trafford.

And as much as Ed Woodward is inclined to brief that his manager is a “genius,” the former Ajax coach’s failure to drive home significant progression at United is a strong counter. Not least because supporters can throw a season and a half of prosaic football into the argument. Fans do not ‘get’ the manager, nor the Dutchman the terrace angst. It is rarely a winning combination.

Van Gaal’s job is not under immediate threat, but in a campaign where United is far from guaranteed Champions League football next season, nor is his future secure. Increasingly supporters appear to be on the side of the Dutchman’s exit, albeit with no scientific rigour in the analysis.

At Chelsea, Mourinho’s downfall comes amid a series of increasingly controversial incidents this season. In August, Mourinho publicly ostracised Eva Carneiro after the club doctor ran on the field to treat Eden Hazard, much to the manager’s chagrin. In October, Mourinho embarked on a seven-minute-long televised rant following Chelsea’s 3-1 home defeat to Southampton. His players are said to believe Mourinho had cracked under the pressure.

More recently Mourinho conducted a bizarre post match press conference and interview in the wake of defeat at home to Liverpool. The dénouement came after the manager claimed to feel “betrayed” by his players in defeat at Leicester City. The bond of manager and players was fatally broken.

“There obviously seemed to be a palpable discord between manager and players,” said Chelsea’s technical director Michael Emenalo. “It was a decision taken to protect the interests of the club. The results have not been good.  The owner is forced to make what was a very tough decision for the good of the club. We are one point above relegation.”

Back in Manchester Van Gaal’s standing with his board remains comparatively strong; not yet is Woodward or the Glazer family prepared to swing the same axe that did for David Moyes. Not, at least, until United’s participation in next season’s Champions league is confirmed, or otherwise. That, of course, is no longer guaranteed with a team that, although shorn of too many players through injury, has spent a season struggling to assert itself.

But nor is Van Gaal on course to earn the same level of affection at Old Trafford with which Mourinho is still held by Chelsea’s supporters. The narrative that wraps the Portuguese manager’s time in London over the past decade is complex, but his legacy as one of the world’s great coaches remains safe. Van Gaal’s is not.

Yet, they were once partners. The master and his apprentice; translator and the great Dutchman.

“I have to say that van Gaal is a beautiful person,” Mourinho once said. “He’s somebody who is a little bit like me in the sense only the people who know him well know who he is. Louis loves to analyse and gives you complete control of training sessions. With him you become a coach on the pitch. I got something that is very important in my methodology: communication. I created with Louis a very, very strong relationship.”

In the years that followed the pair’s stint in Barcelona Van Gaal tasted more failure than silverware, where Mourinho generated almost universal success – at Porto, Chelsea, Internazionale, Real Madrid and then back in London. The Dutchman was twice sacked at Barcelona, alienated his players and management at Bayern Munich, and was forced into a period of redemption at lowly AZ Alkmaar.

Mourinho too will be redeemed for his Chelsea sacking. There will be no shortage of potential suitors both in England and on the continent. Had it not been for City’s long-standing pursuit of Pep Guardiola, the Etihad might have been a natural step in Mourinho’s career come summer 2016.

So too will some point towards a potential future at Old Trafford, despite United’s board having once rejected the Portuguese in favour of a disastrous 10 month spell with Moyes at the helm. Sir Alex Ferguson, betraying a friendship that Mourinho believed he had built, instead chose Moyes. The rest is a blight on United’s history.

They were different circumstances then, of course, although little in Mourinho’s increasingly deconstructed behaviour points to the safe pair of hands United’s board seemingly favours. Nor, save for a campaign at Real Madrid, is Mourinho’s football of the ilk that United’s supporters seemingly crave.

Yet, for all Van Gaal’s brusque personality, the odds marginally favour United qualifying for European competition and the riches it brings. It is the only standard to which he is held by the Board. Supporters may view the world differently of course. Van Gaal’s time at United, all things being equal, is more failure than success. With it the shadow, or promise, of Mourinho and Pep looms.

After all, all managers end in failure. José knows it. Unless results change Van Gaal may come to know it too.


Tom Parkinson - December 18, 2015 Reply

£100 on Jose to take over mufc in the summer.

Denton Davey - December 18, 2015 Reply

Given his proclivity for signing long-term contracts and then getting itchy feet – and a huge golden parachute – you’d have to think that IF Jo$e is in the frame to succeed LvG then it would be prudent to hire him on a year-by-year rolling contract. Perhaps, letting him play second fiddle to LvG in his first year @ Old Trafford. Sure, that would be an enormous slice of humble pie but right now Jo$e is in no position to bargain from strength; he needs UTD more than UTD need him – take it or leave it ! Meanwhile, find out what Pep’s plans are.

Jonathan-walker - December 18, 2015 Reply

What are you smoking?! Mourinho is not about to take a No2 job anywhere, even United

Denton Davey - December 18, 2015 Reply

Hang on, m8.

Of course Jo$e won’t take the job as #2 but if it were framed as a “transition” which will take place over 18 months then it might (“might”) make a lot of sense since for all parties, especially for UTD.

The last times UTD were “in transition” = from SAF to Moyes to LvG – the change has been abrupt and not especially smooth or successful. This time it needs to be done carefully, with some planning rather, than just reacting to circumstances.

For Jo$e, it gives him time for him to de=compress and re-charge his battery – the guy looks frazzled. And, if the rumours are true, then he might be willing to get the top-job at UTD even if it meant he had to “endure” a long transition period. He began as a translator, progressed to be a scout, and then became an assistant manager before he got a top-job in Portugal’s lower leagues. Since then, it’s been a pressure-cooker life so perhaps (?) he might be willing to take one step backwards in order to take two steps forward.

For LvG it provides a long adios – and another big pay-day – before moving permanently to his villa in Portugal.

Of course, Jo$e wants to be #1 but perhaps a longer, slower, smoother transition might be in his interest as well as in that of the other parties.

FWIW, I also think that Pep will not just leave Bayern at the end of this season and move directly into the job at ManShitty; he will probably take another year off. It’s what he did after leaving Barcelona and it would not be out of character to do it again.

Subterranean Steve - December 18, 2015

That’s an interesting idea.

At face value, Jose playing second fiddle to LVG again, appears a non-starter, but who knows? There would be one hell of a big carrot dangling in front of him.

tourettes@ the KOB - December 18, 2015 Reply

He should be taking over now if we want to finish in the top four

The Rookie - December 18, 2015 Reply

Chelsea’s poor results and Mourino’s peculiar remarks have taken the attention off our not as poor results and LVG’s not quite as peculiar remarks. Now that the media’s favorite wipping boy is out more external pressure could be placed on LVG.

I feel a bit bad for Mourino’s honestly. Still a top manager. Many clubs could do a lot worse, including United.

Of course, it seems like about this time last year Ashley Young hit the form of his United career and everything was looking pretty positive. Could happen again.

Nice article as always Ed.

bobbynoble - December 18, 2015 Reply

I’d swap van Gaal for Mourinho anytime. Course it won’t happen.

If Woodward thinks Van Gaal is a genius then the lunatics really have taken over the asylum and we’re all doomed.

GaryS - December 19, 2015 Reply

Buddy..let me paint a picture..Mourinho would sell Memphis, Martial, Perreira and Herrera to teams like Wolfsburg.

They would be replaced by expensive boring but solid players who he’d push to winning the title. You would be happy at this point. Then Mourinho would implode after fights with the players, board and media. He would leave. Left behind would be very average players who can’t perform any longer as they need a rocket up their ass. You’ll be unhappy.

Now the players previously sold (Martial, Memphis, pereira and herrera) would do really well as they’re now experienced and developed. City, PSG and Madrid will buy them. We’ll probably make £100m offers but not actually get them.

We will be in 16th by this point and the players we lost will all credit their training under LVG. We will imagine what could have been.

Of course, by now we’ll be well used to changing managers every two years and going for the latest fashionable manager (prob some bloke who takes over ready built teams like Barca and Bayern).

After 10 managers in 20 years media and fans will talk about..if only we’d have let LVG finish his building. But by now we’ll officially be the new Liverpool.

Welcome to your nightmare.

bobbynoble - December 19, 2015 Reply

I didn’t say I wanted Mourinho, I said I’d swap him for v gaal anytime. As for your painting talent – you’re not even an impressionist – buddy!

Andrew - December 18, 2015 Reply

Are you guys too depressed to do the daily rant cast? Stay strong and my son still loves Wayne Rooney

GaryS - December 19, 2015 Reply

Come on. The jobs were completely different. I don’t understand why on earth United fans want Mourinho. He sold Lukaku and KDB..two guys who are going to be top top PL performers. LVG is building for the future. Why are you expectingit all to work so perfectly so quickly. Rebuilding after SAF and then Moyes was always going to take years and years..similar to when we rebuilt 04, 05 and 06 – seasons under SAF where we were dull and rebuilding. I remember the same journalists then writing Fergie MUST leave and Martin O’neil was the touted genius. Then bang a new team formed.

We need to give it time, of course there are not so great purchases – who in the world and in life gets everything right straight away. Did you genuinely think selling a lot of old has beens and buying new players was going to work immediately? Of course not. But it will eventually after more a bit chopping and changing of the squad.

We need a team builder right kow and we need to lay off with these trigger happy comments after every not so great result. This is a team being built still. mourinho, Ancelotti and Guardiola are NOT teambuilders at all. Look at LVG giving youth a chance..its marvelous.

I for one dread the situation where the club gives into trigger happy fan pressure. We will become a short term team winning the odd title but always with aging mercenaries. Surely you all know the fergie early days when most fans wanted him out but the board could see what he was doing for the future. Yes it’s bit of a bumpy road, but don’t imagine it wouldn’t be under Pep or Mourinho. Get behind your manager folks.

Subterranean Steve - December 20, 2015 Reply

Manchester United is a huge commercial enterprise valued at over a billion pounds and is run by bean counters in suits. The CEO knows little about football and he got his job because he is very successful at creating commercial deals. Van Gaal was brought in as much because he was seen as a solid choice from a commercial perspective as from a footballing one.

The only people who truly care about the football are the fans. They are the life blood, the ever-constant heart and soul of the club, which is Manchester United F.C. The men in suits care merely for Manchester United P.L.C., the business brand.

Players come, players go, as do managers, commercial partners, City whiz kids and carpetbaggers from Florida (well hopefully they will go, eventually) but the fans will always remain – loyal to the cause if not always, the incumbent regime.

So don’t slag off the fans as being ‘trigger-happy’ – that is unfair. United’s football fans will support the manager but not through misguided or blind loyalty. There is a strong case building against LVG and questioning whether is doing a good enough job, is totally reasonable. Identifying his critics as disloyal or wanting a quick fix, is totally inaccurate.

SamosManc - December 24, 2015 Reply

Well said. We as fans have the right to question Van Gaal without being branded as disloyal. I believe i have that right because i have thrown my money into the pot over the decades.Van Gaal simply doesn’t “get” what United is about, and always has been about. He is disrespectful of the clubs fans, the clubs ethos, the history, ex players (also fans) that have won far many trophys than he, Then he walks out on press conference because he says he is only there be cause he has to be, It’s what we called when i worked back in england, “bringing the companys name into disrepute. Talking to the press is part of his job. He needs to be sacked both for football reasons and attitude reasons. Being a united fan doesn’t come with the blind loyalty pre-requisite. Been going since 1967 and never, even when we were awful, been so uninspired watching the reds as i am now.

NazManUnited - December 19, 2015 Reply

Now the Philosophy Master can be overthrown the Force is with United!

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