As Louis van Gaal faced the media after a sixth straight game without a win, the pressure was there for all to see. His verbal admittance that he was worried for his job showed every sign that his previous hardball assurances that the Old Trafford ship was steady under his stewardship is starting to disappear.
After Jose Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea last week, the man long coveted by Reds fans since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 has suddenly become available. It is little wonder van Gaal is worried for his job. Having said that, whilst the appointment of Mourinho would leave some fans verging on delirium at a potential return of attractive football and silverware glory to Old Trafford, is it necessarily the right move?
Mourinho edges van Gaal in terms of trophies accrued over their respective careers. He has conquered leagues in Portugal, Italy, Spain and England. His tactical thinking can often border on genius, as Real Madrid and Chelsea can testify in recent years. His ability to bring in the biggest names in world football (Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, Andriy Shevchenko etc.) shows he certainly means business with his squads, and more often than not he can get the very best out of them. He, like Ferguson, is spectactularly good, if not hugely infuriating, at mind games. A psychological manipulation of his fellow managers often saw him at loggerheads with Rafa Benitez, Ferguson, and Arsene Wenger, whilst giving his team a mental edge over their opponents.
If Mourinho’s persona stopped there, it wouldn’t surprise me to find Ed Woodward already round at Mourinho’s house, complete with a bottle of his favourite wine, and a contract he desperately wants the Special One to sign.
But for all his brilliance pitchside, Mourinho still contains an element of controversy about him. A breakdown in his relationship with Roman Abramovich in 2007 saw him depart Stamford Bridge in a huff, while his continued ill treatment of Real legend Iker Casillas saw him isolated from the rest of the setup in Spain two years ago,and he again left his post. Within the next year of his departure, both teams were contesting respective Champions League finals which, under Mourinho’s guidance, could have culminated in his cemented status as one of the greatest managers of the current century.
But his combustibility constantly proves his downfall. The continued suggestion that the players don’t want to play for Mourinho seemed to look very real when one compared the Chelsea performances against Leicester City – Mourinho’s final game, and their first game without him against Sunderland. The Blues were revitalised, like a huge weight had been lifted from their shoulders.
Right now, what United desperately need is stability. A manager who is afforded time to implement strategies that exhibit a constant stream of, if not perfect then at least encouraging, results. On one hand, van Gaal has steadied a chaotic affair that was United in the post Moyes era. His fourth place finish secured a return to champions league football, even if the playing style left little to be desired.
On the other hand, he has forked out hundreds of millions on purchases that have simply not lived up to standard, and manages a team devoid of the attacking football that brought United unfettered success during Fergusons’s reign. That being said, are United fans simply spoiled by the Ferguson era, and are they unwilling to accept that – despite dull football and some inconsistencies in results – a new manager brings a new style of football?
Those who are calling for van Gaal’s head at a time when Mourinho is available must bear in mind that Mourinho has rarely lasted longer than four years in a management position. Whether down to his own choice or not, his history dictates he would only bring short term stability to Old Trafford at a time when constant changing of hands between management may worsen a situation already teetering on the edge of calamity.
How would he mix with the players? The current crop of Reds include one Juan Mata, a former Chelsea icon whom Mourinho controversially and very publicly ousted from his squad, and given his previous rapport with Casillas, Sergio Ramos and others, it is not beyond the impossible that Mourinho would clash with United’s squad members.
Furthermore, van Gaal should be afforded time. Although Ferguson brought success, it should be remembered it took him four years before he won his first trophy, and a further two years before he tasted Premier League success. Yes, most will agree van Gaal is playing the wrong sort of football. Were he to change it, he may very well see success. But to change management hands now would be catastrophic, and potentially see United enter yet another transition phase blighted by excuses and under performances.
United’s impatience must not be their undoing. Allowing van Gaal time to amend his mistakes, and invest wisely, is absolutely paramount if he is to ensure a successful and perpetual dynasty. It is certainly possible.