It may have seemed a little harsh from the outside looking in when you see Louis van Gaal get sacked a couple of days after winning the FA Cup. However, any Man United fan will tell you how horrendous this season has been for so many different reasons. LVG has been a failure at United in his second season and with Mourinho lurking in the background and other rivals getting top managers, a change had to be made. Here are the reasons why:
1. No Champions League football
I’ll discuss the style of football next but one of the major reasons why LVG deserved to get sacked was that we finished outside of the top four. Even if we had pipped fourth ahead of Man City, I still would have wanted him gone. The board might have just decided to keep him if we had finished 4th, I think no Champions League football was the nail in the coffin.
A club of United’s size has to be in the Champions League. Especially when you consider that the teams that are comparable in terms of global perception, revenue etc. like Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona are not only qualifying every year, they are in the semi-finals and finals every year. Our squad is not good enough to be getting that far in the competition right now but it’s certainly good enough to be getting in the top 4 for the next year’s tournament.
2. The style of football
This is another massive factor in why the fans were so unhappy with LVG. So many games this season have lacked goals, chances, excitement. The play on many occasions was too slow, too one-paced and not incisive enough. First halves on matches proved particularly frustrating, where at Old Trafford, the team just seemed content with it being 0-0 at half time in every match. Even if they weren’t content with that, they really didn’t show they wanted to score in the first 45 minutes. There was that horrible stat of course that United went 11 home matches without scoring in the first half.
People have now often associated United’s style of play with being sleeping pills for viewers.
The stats tell the story too:
- United finished the season with 66 points, only two more points than the infamous David Moyes season.
- They scored 49 goals in the Premier League, the 10th highest.
- United created just 312 chances across the 38 games, only three teams created fewer.
- They played more backwards passes than any other team in the league (3,222).
- They had 430 shots on goal, only four teams had less.
- They failed to scored in 10 of their matches in the league.
Should I go on? Ok, let’s not forget about December to early January where we went eight games without winning in all competitions.
The crazy thing is we actually played our best in the toughest games on paper- Arsenal at home, Chelsea and Man City away, Leicester at home (in the first half at least). It was against the teams at the bottom of the league where it was really poor, 3-3 and 0-0 draws with Newcastle, 2-1 loss to Norwich, 2-1 loss to Sunderland, 2-1 loss to Bournemouth, 1-0 loss to West Brom. Even against Aston Villa at home where we won 1-0, the performance was so lacklustre against a team that everyone had been destroying.
LVG’s repeated excuse/reason for these results was: “It’s very difficult against a team with a good defensive organisation and with 10 players behind the ball.” Do you not think that every top team has to face that in 80% of their matches? Surely it’s up to you to find the answers? And when it’s been really important, United have not done that. Remember the 0-0 against PSV at home where if we had won, we would’ve qualified for the knockout stages? Remember the lack of incident in the entire second half when we had to win? Of course, Lingard had a great chance but apart from that, there was nothing really when we should’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at them.
The slow possession style of play must be what the manager wants because we’ve seen it for two years. In the last couple of months since Rashford’s been in the team, it has looked better but it appears too little too late. An even with him playing, it hasn’t all been great- for example he played in the 2-0 loss Liverpool in the Europa League where again, United were very poor.
Just overall, there have been too many dull performances this season- especially when the pressure has been on for a goal or a win. The fans have become increasingly frustrated and I think the style of football has been more of a problem than where we finished in the league. If we had been playing football like the club’s traditions, there would’ve been far less backlash from supporters despite the 5th place finish.
3. Was LVG up to the task?
I discussed this in my ‘LVG’s position at Manchester United is now untenable’ post which you can read here. Basically, I was saying that he’d come up with some strange quotes about the expectations of the fans and that he couldn’t fulfil them. If you can’t do that, surely you have to leave?
4. Relationship with the players/How he treated players
I can’t say too much about this because like 99% of supporters, I don’t know what went on behind the scenes. But I’ve read stuff like the Independent’s stories about him sending emails with criticism of players’ performances and the players pretending to read it and frankly, it makes me laugh. It makes me laugh because if it’s true, it shows how bad the relationship between the players and LVG got. Plus, it kind of reminded of a headmaster in school giving students a bad grade card and they lie about showing it to their parents.
There have been rumours like De Gea would’ve gone if LVG stayed and all this. Also, we’ve heard the comments from Angel Di Maria about LVG so it’s fair to say that they didn’t see eye to eye.
When I say ‘How he treated players’, I’m specifically talking about Memphis Depay. Here are tweets I wrote after the second game of this season:
I was probably one of those people who got on the hype train too early but after these tweets, I’ve continued to say judge him in his second season.
I still believe in him but how LVG has treated him has been really bad. He’s been taken off at half-time too often and in recent months has been playing 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there. When there’s been an injury to a starting eleven player and Depay’s come into the team, he’s immediately taken out when the other guy is fit again. When we’ve needed a game changer, he’s stayed on the bench, like in the 1-0 loss to Southampton. In fact in that game, Januzaj- who’d hardly played all season- came on instead of him. Depay was left out of the squad too for FA Cup final, the biggest match of the season. I mean talk about knocking somebody’s confidence time and time again.
What makes it worse is he always tries to make things happen when he does come on. He isn’t just content to blend into the background and play sideways passes. He won the decisive penalty in the last minute against Sheffield Utd, his run and shot against Newcastle led to Rooney’s goal, he should’ve won a penalty against Leicester in the last five minutes- the incident where Drinkwater was sent off. These all happened when he came on as a substitute, which is why I feel disappointed about how LVG has treated him. I can’t imagine how Depay must feel himself.
5. The rivals
I touched on this point in the intro but with City getting Guardiola, Chelsea getting Conte, Tottenham with Pochettino and Liverpool with Klopp, next season is going to be so competitive. All those teams have top class managers who will be aiming to win the league. Would LVG have been able to compete with those teams? Well, on the basis of this season, the answer is a categorical no. United simply could not keep falling further and further behind the other top teams in the country.
This post has ended up being a lot longer than I had planned but I guess it puts to bed the argument that he should’ve stayed on because he won the FA Cup. I will miss him as a character though because he certainly made me laugh with some of his antics and quotes. But when it comes to the actual football side of it, it just didn’t work and a change had to be made.
Vaarwel Louis van Gaal!