Alex Ferguson had it, David Moyes certainly had it, and current Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has and probably will continue to have it if, from now, Manchester United have anything close to the bad run they endured before Saturday’s 2-1 win over Swansea City.
Having gone through a gauntlet of disapproval in the form of banners as his side faced Chelsea last week (nothing says ‘I want you out’ than a carefully scribed and put-together sign), Van Gaal is not alone in suffering the wrath of home fans at Old Trafford.
On Boxing Day, the Dutchman’s United side once again looked like they had no idea how to cut through the opposition as Stoke City comfortably intercepted and blocked nearly everything as the Red Devils tried to penetrate the short-lived open pockets in and around Stoke’s area.
The former Premier League champions may have spent the majority of the second period in The Potters’ half, but Mark Hughes’ team were not in danger of conceding at all let alone allowing a 2-0 lead slip. The 20 times league champions were slightly better against the Blues and Swansea, but they were still uninspiring.
On November 21st, after a 2-1 win away at Watford, Man United were in second place, only a point behind leaders Leicester City, and their play actually had a bit of fluidity about it. But having lost four games in a row in all competitions, including an exit from the Champions League, and picked up only three league points from a possible 18 before the win against the Swans, not to mention the stale and boring way in which they competed for them, van Gaal is still not safe from the gossip and, ultimately, the reality of life away from Manchester before his scheduled exit in 2017.
That run of eight matches without a win is worse than anything David Moyes ever went through in his spell with the club. And although the Scotsman came 7th in his sole campaign as United boss, while Van Gaal got them back into the Champions League by coming 4th, it could be argued that Moyes did a better job than his predecessor.
Yes, Moyes had taken over a club who were league champions at the time, but it just so happened that the elder statesmen of that squad, such as Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra were coming to the end of their time in English football – they were no longer able to cope with the demands of the English game. Evra has revived his career at Juventus – as many players younger than himself have done when leaving the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – but it was obvious he was not cut out for the hustle and bustle of the Premier League anymore, with the slower Italian style much more suited to his ever decreasing speed.
Evra has revived his career at Juventus – as many players younger than himself have done when leaving the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – but it was obvious he was not cut out for the hustle and bustle of the Premier League anymore, with the slower Italian style much more suited to his ever decreasing speed.
This and the glaring fact that Moyes was not given the funds by the hierarchy at Old Trafford to replace his aging and rapidly declining stars. Under the Scotsman, United finished 7th, topped their Champions League group undefeated – which included one of the club’s great European displays in beating a good Bayer Leverkusen side 5-0 in their own backyard – and reached the quarter-finals of the competition.
They also would have been in a League Cup final had it not been for a bizarre rule whereby away goals only counted after extra-time. United lost 2-1 to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light then won the 90 minutes 1-0 at Old Trafford; cue extra time, Sunderland scoring, then United scoring thus setting up a penalty shoot-out that was won by the Black Cats.
All this while spending a sole £27.5 million on Marouane Fellaini in the summer and then having just over two months to work with £37.1 million signing Juan Mata before being dismissed in April. Compare this to Louis van Gaal’s £250 million spree, on a side that was thumped 4-0 by League One MK Dons in the 2nd round of the League Cup, struggled to get past Yeovil Town, non-league Cambridge United (who they needed a replay to overcome) and Preston North End in the FA Cup before losing to Arsenal and a Danny Welbeck goal in round six, knocked out by Middlesbrough in this season’s League Cup followed by an exit from the Champions League at the group stage.
In his previous jobs, we’ve seen Van Gaal going crazy on the touchline barking orders, kicking the air, jumping up and down… But one gets the sense that seeing as it’s his last managerial job in football, he’s taking it easy in order to let his assistants to do all that for him. Or maybe not; as we haven’t seen much animation from Ryan Giggs have we?
Giggs could be being kept schtum by Van Gaal, but it could also be because the Welshman knows no other way than the swashbuckling style he and the team played under Alex Ferguson; so is at a loss at how to guide the current players in the languid methods they are employing. Moyes’ United weren’t exactly a bundle of joy to watch, but it was with players he hadn’t recruited. The vast majority of Van Gaal’s side are players he picked out on whatever merits he saw fit for the type of dressing room and type of football he wanted – Moyes was just thrown into the cauldron.
A lion tamer and its trainer may be champions, but once that trainer goes, will the experienced replacement be guaranteed to carry it on and be able to handle the beast? If you compare Man United’s situation from Moyes to now, and the stuff that’s gone on, the Scotsman doesn’t come out of it as bad as you might think.