Wednesday 26 September 2018

LVG always leaves me baffled and confused

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal (PA)
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal (PA)

It's not often I have to put my hand up and say that something in football has me baffled but on the subject of Louis van Gaal, I admit to being confused and it's not the first time I've said that.

In the last few days, Van Gaal told us that some of the players he has been using are not good enough.

I have to say that stopped me in my tracks. Here is a man who has spent a quite extraordinary amount of money on players complaining that he spent £300m on the wrong men.

Van Gaal is not stupid. Why would he admit something like this and as he pointed out himself, risk alienating the very players who are carrying his job in their hands all the way to Wembley?

Why would he detail his own failings in public at a very sensitive time for himself, his players and the Old Trafford Board?

I can come to only one conclusion from all of that. His authority is not what it seems and someone else has been making decisions about player recruitment which Van Gaal should be making.

If this is true, there is actually no difference between Van Gaal's circumstances and the environment which drove José Mourinho over the edge and ultimately out the door at Stamford Bridge.


If you wind back to the moment Van Gaal was announced as the successor to David Moyes, you'll remember that he was fully immersed with Holland in the build-up to the World Cup finals in Brazil.

There was no way he could give Manchester United any useful attention until he was clear of his international responsibilities and we know that Holland almost went all the way in the competition.

With pre-season already under way and with hardly a moment to compose himself, Van Gaal was suddenly in charge of one of the biggest clubs in the world on a pre-season tour in America he didn't want.

Hindsight tells me that this was a crucial six weeks when Ed Woodward was trusted to buy players and failed.

Van Gaal may well have handed over some of his authority before he even started and perhaps that is the source of the confusion I've felt about this Dutchman from the start.

On the face of it, Van Gaal looks like a man of power and control but perhaps his stern demeanour is hiding a different story.

Van Gaal has stated clearly that he is working with players who were bought under his watch that are not good enough. I know from my own time that executives, directors and owners will find many creative ways to avoid buying the player the manager wants and instead, offer him someone they think would be a good idea.

I suspect that Van Gaal had men in mind he wanted to buy but either Woodward wasn't able to seal deals or he didn't want to buy the players in the first place.

There is another item of evidence which is relevant here.

A few months back there was a clearly leaked round of stories about how Woodward was courting super-agent Jorge Mendes.

Not a bad plan given the fact that Mendes is the king-maker in many of the biggest deals in Europe.

But while the arrangement might work for Woodward, I suspect it might not operate so smoothly for Van Gaal or whoever is the manager after the dust settles on this season.

Mendes has his own agenda which is all about money and he will try push deals he wants to make which may not be the preferred option for the manager.

After nearly two years in charge, the evidence is plain to see that Van Gaal is working with a poor squad and in terms of the quick and creative players he apparently wanted to sign, he has very few.

But he is in the FA Cup final. The huge irony here is that if manages to win it, he will be in pretty much the same position occupied by Alex Ferguson back in 1990.

He is a singular man, Van Gaal, full of odd mannerisms and he says some truly irrational things.

On the pitch, a lot of the time I have no idea what Manchester United are trying to do and I think many of his players, good or bad, would be on the same page as me.

And yet he fights on. Somehow, I don't think I will ever understand Louis van Gaal.

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