Louis Van Gaal is the Emperor With No Clothes
He watches imperiously from the stands at Old Trafford while acolytes like Ryan Giggs stalk the sidelines trying to find answers for the inexplicable.
Tactics that change from game to game, from week to week, players playing out of position, world class strikers not even making the bench, a team that’s hard to love because nobody knows what it is.
And all the time, the manager sits there calmly, like it’s all part of some brilliant master plan.
But what if there is no plan? What if Van Gaal’s luck has run out? What if the emperor really doesn’t have any clothes?
The much-maligned David Moyes had exactly the same number of points as Van Gaal’s Manchester United after 21 games of the premier league season. Moyes, a decent and honorable man, wasn’t given anything like the $250 odd million summer transfer cash doled out to his Dutch successor and was hounded out of the job without the chance to truly settle in and show what he could do.
In contrast, Van Gaal has had pretty much a free pass. He can’t even blame injuries any more as Ashley Young is now the only first team player crocked, hardly a game-changing loss.
Against Southampton on Sunday, United were appallingly unimaginitive. They showed no invention, little team spirit. Something clearly got Robin Van Persie’s goat because he was way more interested in arguing about everything than scoring goals. At one point he shoved the ball into the referees’ stomach with such force he surely could have been shown red.
I felt sorry for Wayne Rooney who could hardly breathe most of the game he was playing so deep. Angel Di Maria was chasing shadows up front and dreaming of the Bernabau. And $300,000-a-week Radamel Falcao? Where was one of the world’s very best strikers when his colleagues managed not a single shot on goal? Left out of the team, that’s what. Even James Wilson made the 18 ahead of him. James who? Exactly.
All the time, Van Gaal sat waiting for the goal he knew it was going to come. Until it didn’t.
It sounded like he was watching another game anyway. "We played a much better game than Southampton,” he said. "They were lucky to score out of nothing.”
Who is he kidding? Certainly not the Old Trafford faithful. They know good football when they see it and this was not it.
Southampton were not the free-flowing rampant team of last fall but they were organized and efficient and the players knew how and where to find one another. The manager had a clear game plan and it worked. There was no mystery about it. He even ventured down to the touchline to look like he cared.
Look, I dislike Manchester United as much as any other non-Manchester United fan but they have always been the first team I set my DVR to each weekend because (and please don’t tell anybody this ) they have always played some pretty damned fine football through the days of Charlton, Law and Best to Robson and Hughes to Beckham and Cantona and Keane and Scholes.
Van Gaal won trophies at Ajaz, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but he didn’t necessarily inspire love and devotion. Manchester is a tough crowd. They need their managers to bleed red, not blue. Van Gaal isn’t soccer royalty. He can’t wave glibly and expect everybody to swallow his platitudes. For all the money he spent, he still doesn’t have a defense and Rooney remains the fulcrum around which everything revolves.
Moyes was fired for finishing 7th last season. If Sunday was anything to go by, United will have trouble matching that come May.
Unless, of course, Van Gaal really does have a plan.