Manchester United: Apportioning the Blame

Manchester United: Apportioning the Blame

The blame game can be a self-defeating process.

Manchester United fans and quite possibly many individuals employed by the club are currently within the midst of the blame game.

Louis van Gaal is the man to blame it seems. Louis van Gaal it appears is responsible for the regression of Manchester United.

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The many stats on offer point to a manager who has done no better than his much maligned predecessor, David Moyes. The stats added to the vast outlay on transfers under the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach undeniably make for damning evidence of mismanagement.

Louis van Gaal, a man who looks to be on borrowed time now at Old Trafford, has struggled to get to grips with the Manchester United job. Arguably however, any manager would have struggled to get to grips with the job post-Alex Ferguson.

David Moyes, the man who Alex Ferguson ill-advisedly suggested to the club as his own successor, was doomed from day one. A lower profile appointment than anyone ever expected, Moyes was always going to be on shaky ground with the fan-base once results and/or performances began to slip from Ferguson’s demanding high levels.

With Moyes having inherited a heavily decorated squad of high-achievers, this left him open to question from his own players over just what his credentials for the job were at times. If Moyes, as a coach without a major honour on his managerial CV couldn’t exceed the minimum expectations at Old Trafford, then he was never going to hold on to the job for long.

So it came to pass. Moyes exited Manchester United in under a year.

Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman and the man basically responsible for the day-to-day running of the club had to shoulder a reasonable degree of the fall-out. A disastrous first transfer window helped set the tone for Moyes and Woodward was the man in control of the wheel.

With Moyes gone, Woodward turned to Louis van Gaal.

Louis van Gaal, with a vast array of success and experience with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, ticked all the right boxes. Fresh from taking the Netherlands to the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, including a 5-1 destruction of Spain in their opening game, van Gaal struck the image of a safe pair of hands to become Manchester United’s first ever continental manager.

In reality however, Louis van Gaal isn’t always a stabilising figure. The rights and wrongs of van Gaal have been far reaching for two decades now.

Since revolutionising Ajax during the early to mid-1990’s, all of van Gaal’s managerial appointments have had elements of sweet and sour to them. Two La Liga titles with Barcelona were offset by an internal civil war within the squad that almost saw the dressing room spilt in two. There was also a disastrous second spell at the club which left the Catalan giants just three points above the relegation zone when he departed.

Taking the Netherlands to the semi-finals of the World Cup two years ago came twelve years after his failure to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, during his first spell in charge of the national team. While even a return to Ajax as technical director ended prematurely, due to a fall out with the then Ajax coach Ronald Keoman, a feud which rumbles on to this this very day.

A re-invention of himself at AZ Alkmaar, which eventually saw him lead them to the Eredivisie title in 2008/09, came a year after he almost walked out on the club after a disappointing 2007/08. That title win with AZ lead to the Bayern Munich job.

At Bayern, a monumental first season in charge saw him become the first Dutchman to coach a Bundesliga winning side, as part of a domestic double. The Champions League final was reached, falling in Madrid to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan. The harmony didn’t last and from a new contract being spoken about in the wake of a near treble winning season, van Gaal was sacked by the following April.

If Manchester United wanted a near certainty of stability, then they appointed poorly for a second successive time. While van Gaal is capable of delivering success, he can also deliver rancour. It is always a gamble to employ van Gaal.

Yet, it is erroneous to blame Louis van Gaal alone for the state Manchester United find themselves in. It is even erroneous to simply blame a combination of van Gaal and Moyes.

Despite the fact that Alex Ferguson departed the manager’s office at Old Trafford with the club as reigning champions, it is fair to say that he took his eye off the longer-term picture, as his own personal finish line drew into view.

Ferguson struggled in later seasons to replace aging players in a way that wouldn’t have been countenanced by him a decade earlier. As Ferguson took his eye off the longer-term picture, perhaps he even sub-consciously decided not to replace his aging players. Those players he trusted so much.

Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs all played an active role in that final season under Ferguson, when there had been a previous time when he would never have kept players as long as he did in the cases of Ferdinand, Scholes and Giggs. Younger models would have been brought in while a star player was still at a high level in Ferguson era’s past. It was a template he mirrored from Bob Paisley at Liverpool, in replacing perceived integral parts of the team when they were seemingly still at the peak of their powers. Towards the end others such as Gary Neville were retained longer than others had been in the past, while the signing of Robin van Persie from Arsenal was a definitive act of short-term planning.

In the face of the open cheque books at Chelsea and Manchester City it was maybe Ferguson’s best chance of staying at the top of the tree. It did however contribute in the erosion of the once unbreakable empire he built at Old Trafford.

I don’t believe that Manchester United are imploding, as many people suggest they are. I feel they are arguably decaying season-on-season instead in the same way Liverpool did in the early 1990’s.

Liverpool’s empire began to crumble from their very strongest position. You can chart it directly back to the all-conquering 1987/88 season, when they were light-years ahead of everyone else. Manchester United are showing some striking similarities almost three decades later. The seed of today were initially sown around half a decade ago.

There is no quick fix for Manchester United and it is short-sighted to solely blame Louis van Gaal. He is simply trying to turn the tide, but the currents appear to be too strong.