Louis van Gaal's long goodbye at Manchester United has become painful to watch
When popular support collapses to the point of no return, even the most optimistic politician accepts his time is up.
Thus is the scenario facing Louis van Gaal at Manchester United, with the perception from an increasing majority of the club’s supporters that the veteran Dutchman needs to be removed as the club’s manager making his departure at some point in the next six months all-but inevitable.
After his miserable Christmas that included a Twitter storm over his imminent sacking, a grumpy walk-out from a press conference and a truly horrible defeat at Stoke, Van Gaal appeared to have emerged from the crisis with his mandate renewed and the club firmly backing his continued stay as fantasist in chief at the Theatre of Dreams.
It may just have been a stay of execution as those present at Old Trafford last Saturday felt as if they were a part of what is becoming a long goodbye to the game for Van Gaal.
This is a legendary coach who appears to have fallen into United’s lap at a time in his career when he has last his magic touch. He is yesterday’s hero….that much has been evident for some time.
Star names have had their talents diluted by his safety first tactics in the last two seasons, expensive mistakes have been made in the transfer market and, most significantly, the faith the club’s supporters placed in the manager who offered them hope that a return to the golden era was possible has now been shattered. It’s hard to imagine it can ever be fully restored.
There was always a danger that a coach who had not lifted the Champions League trophy since the year that saw Steve Collins beat Chris Eubank and Jack Charlton quit as Republic of Ireland boss was past his sell-buy date, yet not even his biggest critic would have imagined it could come to the point he has reached now.
While a smiling Van Gaal did his best to convince a depressed audience that his side’s turgid 1-0 FA Cup win against Sheffield United last Saturday was part of the “process” he is overseeing at Old Trafford, the manager who is selective in the statistics he likes to lean on to explain away his loathed philosophy cannot run away from reality for too much longer.
Paul Scholes has been held up as arch critic-in-chief for a manager who has yet to convince United fans that he still has what it takes to be a winner in 2016, yet the belatedly outspoken Old Trafford icon is speaking for a vast audience when he suggests a change of direction is needed at United.
Whether that change should come in the shape of Jose Mourinho is a whole different debate and you get the impression that if United’s hierarchy wanted the divisive sacked Chelsea boss as the front man of their global brand, he would already be in place by now.
Instead, speculation is starting to bubble to suggest other candidates may be at the forefront of United’s future planning.
Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone and Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino have been mentioned as possible successors to Van Gaal in recent days and both men would bring clarity to a club that has lost its way after placing so much faith in a coach whose stellar record appeared to make him a bullet-proof option for Old Trafford chiefs.
United went in search of a proven winner to replace David Moyes in the summer of 2014, so hiring a coach who has won league titles in four countries and who arrived at Old Trafford a few days after leading Holland to the World Cup semi-final appeared to tick every box on their list of requirements.
It didn’t take long to appreciate that the version of Van Gaal that United thought they were getting may well have been left in the previous century, with his rigid methods quickly draining the smiles out of a club that used to bristle with arrogant charm.
One myth that needs to be put to bed is this: no media pundit actively wants Lous van Gaal to fail at Manchester United. Why would they?
In fact, there is an argument to suggest that newspaper sales would be bolstered by the vast army of United fans running to their newsagents to read a review of their latest triumph, rather than being served up a grizzly reminder of the latest depressing performance they have had to sit through. Watching Van Gaal’s football is bad enough, so reading is hardly likely to be palatable.
You only needed to look on United’s agony last weekend to appreciate the fans are desperate for more. They want Van Gaal to change his ways, but he just can’t do it.
The sound of United fans sarcastically jeering their players as they finally served up a first shot on goal 68 minutes into their game against League One side Sheffield United last weekend will be on the final indignities of the Van Gaal era, with his assistant Ryan Giggs being tarnished for the role he is playing in failing to avert the misery.
The unproven Giggs is not the natural successor to Van Gaal, he never has been, and while club ‘insiders’ continue to brief the media to suggest the United boss retains their full backing and will see out a contract that is due to run until the summer of 2017, it can only be a matter of time before that stance is altered.
A Premier League title triumph in May might give Van Gaal a license to continue as United boss into his final season at the club, but even if that improbable scenario transpires, United fans would struggle to celebrate a brand of football that would have taken their beloved club back to the promised land.
Style and substance need to be fused together in glorious unison when you are Manchester United manager and that is a concept Van Gaal seems unable and maybe even unwilling to embrace.
This man is not for changing.