herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Time up for old school van Gaal and Wenger

(l-r) Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger
(l-r) Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger

How long more can Manchester United tolerate this? Louis van Gaal has nothing left to offer at Old Trafford and surely they can see that?

These are sad days for those who like their managers old school.

Van Gaal and Arsene Wenger are both in deep, deep trouble. They're in the waiting room for bosses at the end of their time, still fighting but losing to the new fashion for young, very capable managers like Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino.

Everyone at Arsenal is afraid to tell Wenger to go and he himself must be terrified of life after football but someone needs to bite the bullet and soon.

With each week since the start of February another chip has been knocked out of Arsenal's season and the final blow will likely come when the Gunners face Barcelona in the Champions League this week trailing by two and with morale in the bin.

Van Gaal is living on a reputation which was built on his ability to drive home his message and ignore all critics - internal and external. He looks punch drunk.

Heartache

His 'process' is not working or if it is, it amounts to hitting Marouane Fellaini with a long diagonal ball, trying to get the knock-down and whoever does must then look for the big Belgian's bobbing curls in the box.

Just three seasons after they were the masters of the universe, United just about managed to hang on grimly to a 1-1 against West Ham at Old Trafford and kept hopes of a place in an FA Cup semi-final alive.

I remember saying in the season after Alex Ferguson retired that United were on the same path which took Liverpool from the top of Europe to Jurgen Klopp's efforts to rebuild an institution four decades later and a lot of heartache in between.

Some thought I was mad but the signs are there for all to see. Paul Scholes was righteously angry after the first-leg of the Europa League tie and said exactly what I thought myself on the night.

I was delighted with Liverpool but I just could not see what Man United were trying to do.

Anyone who knows the game should be able to pick out a shape in moments and with a manager, should be able to identify what it is he is trying to achieve within a few months of his arrival.

Klopp is the perfect example. I know he wants Liverpool to move the ball quickly. I know he wants the defensive line to start with the strikers and I know he wants pressure on the ball at all times if one of his players doesn't have it.

This is pretty basic stuff but I can't see much of it in Van Gaal's teams. When Michael Carrick is in midfield there is some discernible pattern but more often than not it's a mess.

Scholes's criticisms were heartfelt and Van Gaal's response was to chastise fans for living in the past. That's simply not good enough when you've spent over £350m.

All of this, of course, is being watched with some glee on Merseyside but I would urge a bit of caution. Liverpool are no less fragile.

I'm concerned that an early goal for United on Thursday in front of nearly 75,000 at Old Trafford would once again expose Liverpool's brittleness.

If everything goes to Klopp's script, Van Gaal will wake up on Friday morning at the centre of a storm but I sense he is in no mood to make it easy for United, a bit like Giovannoi Trapattoni and Ireland.

Trapattoni must have known that the tide had turned against him from the big banks of empty seats at the Aviva which we saw at the start in the Brazil 2014 campaign but he had a contract and he wanted his money.

I think van Gaal also knows the gig is up and is now in self-preservation mode.

He needs to retreat from this job with his reputation frayed but still intact so that he can move gracefully into retirement rather than be bounced into an ignominious resignation.

To be honest, it's probably too late for that. His last days as a manager will be seen as a failure.

When he does go, he will leave behind a club which has built an incredible financial engine on the success of one man and his teams but desperately needs a new Messiah.

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