Uncertainty Reigns At Man Utd As Louis van Gaal Stays... For Now


It was a Christmas week of mixed messages and a few twists from Manchester United, but one that ended with the most predictable of results under Louis van Gaal.

The wonder now is whether that will bring what had seemed an inevitable conclusion, and the end of the Dutch coach’s reign at the club.

In the build-up to Christmas Day, it had seemed certain that Van Gaal would go. Key figures within the club were hoping he would quit after the 2-1 defeat to Norwich City. Some feel it’s beyond the point of no return, were calling for his sacking, and insisting that he only had two games left.

It is certainly true that the club had told him they expected a minimum two wins from the three games against Norwich, Stoke City and Chelsea.

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It seems that may have been an attempt at motivation because they ended those with one point, but that’s also where it gets a bit more complicated. There was widespread expectation he would go this week… until you got to a certain level at Old Trafford.

At the very top of the club - in other words, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward - there remains a reticence to sack Van Gaal.

Part of this is undeniably down to the fact that any analysis of the Dutch coach’s performance would also be interlinked with a justifiable analysis of the performance of the man who appointed him. With questions about Woodward only increasing, his reputation can’t really afford a second duff appointment and a sacking.

This is the root reason that Van Gaal has stayed.

The question is what will happen if the situation stays the same.

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Many around United took encouragement from the improved nature of the display in the game against Chelsea, but it’s worth putting that into the context of what was still a home game against opposition who were injury-ravaged and have just sacked their manager in a crisis-racked season of their own. That emphasises just how far standards and form have dropped.

This may also be harsh on Van Gaal, but it’s hard not to think that an attack that was initially more proactive was a consequence of one those last-throw-of-the-dice situations, where the players are almost psychologically released.

It is a fact, after all, that many of the squad still have huge issues with how he sets up the team and what he demands of them.

It is also going to take an awful lot to change that, probably much more than a few improved results.

The reason United are in this situation in the first place is because of the attritional effect of the constrained football on the mood of the players - and how it stifled them - so, even if results improve, the likelihood is that we’ll just return to this cycle and its occasional bursts.

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If that is the case, then there is a strong argument that Woodward’s faith in Van Gaal improving this situation is misplaced.

Van Gaal may be capable of restoring United to the level of the end of last season, but it doesn’t look like he has a level above that any more.

That is a concern even beyond the current poor results.

Complicating all of that, of course, is the debate over who his replacement would be.

Jose Mourinho wants the job and desperately wants to show Chelsea - and everyone else - that he was wrong to be sacked, so it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that he would be driven enough to single-mindedly deliver the title this season, which remains so ludicrously open.

The deeper issue with the Portuguese, though, is that he will bring further problems of his own down the line and also that he would just delay the confrontation of concerns that need to be faced up to right now.

So much of this shows the uncertainty and the lack of a plan at Old Trafford.

It sums up so much that, for all the talk of “philosophy” during Van Gaal’s time, United look to be a club without an overarching one.

 

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