Monday 23 May 2016

What went wrong for Louis van Gaal at United (Part 1)

Louis van Gaal called Manchester United the "biggest club in the world" when he was appointed in 2014- the sort of bold statement a disillusioned fanbase yearned to hear after the David Moyes nightmare.

The 64-year-old Dutchman was meant to be the antidote of the Scot, who was painfully out of his depth after succeeding Sir Alex.
He was the big, brash personality who would embrace the scale and stature of the club - a perfect fit for one of the world's most successful coaches.

He was a figure of world standing having taken an unheralded Netherlands squad to third place in the World Cup in Brazil but it soon became clear that his best days were behind him.

Van Gaal's tenure looks like it has ended with United's first trophy since the retirement of Sir Alex as the FA Cup was won but his departure was inevitable after a joyless, turgid season in which the run to Wembley was the exception and not the rule.

The brief hope offered by a return to the top four and the Champions League in his first season was replaced by an early exit from Europe's elite tournament at the group stage and a failure to reach next season's competition.

So how did an appointment that started with such hope and expectation end in disappointment and a tortuous journey to dismissal for a man regarded as one of the best managers of his generation?

When Van Gaal admitted after a narrow FA Cup third-round win over Sheffield United that he had been "very bored" during some games this season, how could he really have expected supporters to be satisfied?

And what sort of message did that send out to United's owners the Glazers - who, while detached, followed his every word? 

It could have been the opening line of a resignation speech. Hardly stuff fit for the 'Theatre of Dreams'.

It did not get much more exciting and while Van Gaal's blunt honesty was welcome he so often veered wildly off course to antagonise supporters who did not want ice cold water thrown over their lofty ambitions.

He suggested some were living in the past and said after the final Premier League game of the season- a 3-1 win over Bournemouth, that "the fans are expecting a lot but I think that this is not realistic and these expectations are much too high."

In PR terms the signals were all wrong and Van Gaal was certainly not raising expectations.

Van Gaal's functional style of football, based on training ground repetition aimed at defensive organisation and retaining possession, was accepted when he achieved his first brief, namely to return the club to the Champions League.

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