Manchester United: Van Gaal’s a product of the Glazers greed
Oliver Kay writes in the Times about Manchester united’s steady decline. Growing up in a family of avid Leeds United fans, I know how this one goes. That “Mighty Leeds 1974 – Now for Europe” sticker slapped on the rear window of the family car aged badly.
United still have box-office appeal, which is why tomorrow’s meeting with West Ham is their 51st consecutive live-televised tie in the FA Cup. They always draw the biggest TV audiences, but increasingly, as on Thursday night, the casual viewer will be left wondering what on earth has happened to Manchester United. No, it was not quite thrill-a-minute in the Ferguson era, but there was always the expectation of excellence in some facet of the game, whether it was midfield defiance, swashbuckling wing play or even, in later years, tactical discipline.
TV companies love United, just as they once adored Liverpool. But surely the armchair fans’ appetite for United is rooted in Alex Ferguson’s exciting teams. Whisper this: when United scored on that magic night in Barcelona, I was with a gaggle of Arsenal and Leeds fans (the family) tuned in. Cameras turned to the crowing German fans. We all felt it. Moments later we were on our feet. You don’t really want Leicester City to win the league – we just don’t mind it; but that night it was glory glory Man United.
More than one agent has suggested, having spoken to United about potential signings, that the club’s plan is to stick with Van Gaal in the unlikely event that they secure a top-four finish in the Barclays Premier League. That would be astonishing. Surely, after two seasons there is enough evidence to make a sensible, balanced appraisal without it coming down to “fourth place good, fifth place bad”.
José Mourinho lurks in the background, desperate to succeed the man who was his mentor at Barcelona in the late 1990s. The media briefings from his camp reflected a confidence in January, when the board’s angst over Van Gaal was at its height, but in recent weeks there has been a change in tone. Unease has crept in, as if Mourinho and Jorge Mendes, his agent, are concerned that they might be being strung along while United contemplate other candidates, such as Ryan Giggs, the assistant manager, and Mauricio Pochettino, of Tottenham Hotspur, or even the possibility of sticking with Van Gaal.
Is the manager the biggest issue at United, the club owned by Americans who care nothing for the club’s history other than using the ‘brand’ to flog anything? Corporations don’t go in for thrilling. They go for branding. So the suits get Van Gaal. They get Mourinho. But neither they nor the money men really get United.