Oh Louis… how has it all gone wrong? It was all sunshine and roses at the end of last season for Manchester United. Despite not mounting a serious title challenge as Chelsea ran away with the league, the club was at least back in the Top 4, in the Champions League and playing expansive, attacking football with help from the then talismanic afro-haired Fellaini.
In the summer, reinforcements were brought in, and more deadweight shifted. Away went Nani permanently to Fenerbahce, joined by the aging Robin van Persie. Sent off to where he really wanted to be in the first place went Angel di Maria to PSG and, at least it seemed to be the case, van Gaal had finally fixed United’s midfield and problem right-back position with the triple signings of Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastien Schweinsteiger, and Matteo Darmian. As an added bonus, in hindsight at least, Anthony Martial was purchcased for a mere £36m from Monaco, initially derided as a panic buy before his wonder goal in his debut against Liverpool which made the whole of the world sit up and take notice. That all sounds pretty positive, right? Right!?
Sadly for United fans, that was where it ended for van Gaal in this torturous, mind-numbing season. Not only did United depart the Champions League before Christmas, but Middlesbrough also knocked them out of the League Cup in one of the most characterless displays from a United squad in history. The sacking of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea has admittedly not helped the intense media speculation, as van Gaal has arguably been sacked by the media three times since Mourinho’s own sacking.
More recently, losses in 2016 to Southampton, Sunderland, and Midtjylland, alongside draws with Newcastle and Chelsea, have piled the pressure further on top of the furiously disciplined van Gaal. The football has not just been bad, it has been, at times, soporific and unbearable to watch. At the time of writing, United sit sixth in the Premier League, are through to the FA Cup 6th Round, and the Europa League Round of 16, yet van Gaal’s position is untenable beyond the end of May and Mourinho is as likely to get the job as the sun is to rise tomorrow morning.
The only salvageable positive has been van Gaal’s use of youth. The emergence of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Marcus Rashford, Guillermo Varela, and Jesse Lingard, while necessitated by a miniscule squad size, have been a breath of fresh air after Moyes’ mediocrity. Whether van Gaal’s inevitable successor continues that development is a question for another day but come May, it will be ta-ra to Louis, and hello Jose.