Norwich match could finish off LVG’s wretched reign

Jim White says another bad performance against Norwich Cityat the weekend could see Louis van Gaal reach the end of the road at Manchester United.
Despite the gathering weight of evidence to the contrary, Louis van Gaal is not a poor manager. You do not win the Champions League and the domestic league titles in Spain, Germany and Holland by chance. Nor is he a fool. Or indeed a poor judge of a player.
And yet with every passing week at Manchester United he is doing an ever more vivid impression of someone finding themselves further and further out of their depth, not waving but drowning as the gathering swell threatening to overwhelm him. With retirement his next stated career choice, he looks increasingly as if he is to leave management with his reputation for innovation and motivation tarnished beyond repair.
Because of this there is no doubt: it is not working for Van Gaal at Manchester United. What is now unquestionably his squad – assembled at vast cost – is stumbling and stuttering, few if any playing to their potential. Worse, for a manager who once claimed that the first priority of his profession was to entertain, not only are his side failing to win, they are doing so in the most turgid, unimaginative, risk-averse fashion ever seen at the Benitez faces sack
One long-time supporter who has been a regular at Old Trafford across five decades told me recently that he had never seen such rotten football played by United. And he was there during the Dave Sexton era, a time defined – if it is recalled at all – as the dullest in the club’s gilded history.
And the thing that alarms many a United fan is this: it is not getting any better. That bright spell back in early spring when Liverpool and Manchester Citywere beaten in successive games, was not a promise of what lay ahead. It was not a suggestion that once the basics had been restored a gloss of attacking verve would be added. It was a blip. A chimera. A passing moment.
Van Gaal talks grandly of philosophy and process and it was clear when he arrived that much needed to be done. He had to restore order, sort out the defence, stop leaking goals. He had to remove a great deal of dead wood from the squad he inherited from David Moyes. And he set about the task with considerable energy and unbeatable self-certainty.
What was odd in his rebuilding, however, was that he removed players who were failing to fulfil the role required of them not because they weren’t good enough but because they were drained of confidence. Angel Di Maria, Rafael, Javier Hernandez: these were all players who needed nothing more than a reboot.Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal (left) greets Angel Di Maria – PA Sport
As their subsequent form with PSG, Lyon and Bayer Leverkusen respectively has shown, all of them could have done a more than adequate job for United were they properly handled. Indeed, how the current side could use a vibrant right-back and a quick winger to provide the ammunition for a firing goalscorer. It is surely a manager’s first prerequisite to get the best out the resources available to him. Not simply to discard them because they were feeling a bit low.
This is where Van Gaal has failed most seriously at United. He has a squad that should be playing far, far better than they are. As he should have after spending £250 million. But of the 13 players he has brought into the club, only three – Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial – can be said to be playing anywhere near their potential. And two of those – Shaw and Herrera – are currently unavailable. The rest are labouring.
The performance at Bournemouth was beyond wretched. Limp, thin, unimaginative, wan, desolate: the list of pejorative adjectives to describe how woebegone it was is almost endless. What upset so many watching United fans was the lack of spirit in the last 10 minutes. Instead of battling for an equaliser, Van Gaal’s players looked in need of a mercy killing, as if they could not wait for the final whistle to put everyone out of their misery. And this from a club built on its refusal to yield. This from a club renowned for the lateness of its recovery. Clive Tyldesley once famously suggested “United always score”. Not any more.
In defeat, Van Gaal immediately pointed to his gathering injury list. Which, in other circumstances might have been a legitimate excuse. Except this was in a match against Bournemouth, a side who have been devastated by injury this season, who have lost their three most significant players to long-term problems. The difference was those Eddie Howe called up from the reserves looked as if they would run through brick walls if the manager asked them. United’s players barely looked as if they would dare attempt to break out of a damp paper bag.
For players to look that bereft of confidence is surely a consequence of bad management. Something is going wrong in the dressing room or the training pitch that has allowed fear of failure to become the dominant trait.
Two weeks ago, Van Gaal was facing a run of fixtures which suggested he could turn his season around. A Champions League tie against Wolfsburgsandwiched by league fixtures with West Ham and Bournemouth: it would be hard to conjure up a more benign sequence. Two defeats and a mind-numbingly dull goalless draw, however, have completely undermined his hopes. If he can’t do it against that lot, with the resources he has at his disposal, then there can be no excuse.
Another spineless performance against Norwich on Saturday and the end of the road will surely have been reached, however much the board is making noises about extending his contract. A club of United’s tradition and meaning cannot be allowed to continue squandering its heritage in this fashion.
These are interesting times at Old Trafford. Not least if Pep Guardiolaannounces next week that he will make himself available from this coming summer. If they pass up the opportunity to employ the one man in world football so evidently most suited for the role it will tell us all we need to know about the lack of credibility of those in charge of England’s former glory club.

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