Comment: Man United's only option is to put worn-out Louis van Gaal out of his misery
Manchester United’s reluctance to retire Louis van Gaal to some rest home for the broken down is assuming something approaching a bestial cruelty.
As United drift on in a forlorn demi-sleep,the House of Busby reduced to the most faltering, sleepwalking shuffle, Ed Woodward has exhausted all justification for sitting idly by.
Never mind his suitability as manager, right now Jose Mourinho would get a game for this fractured, ebbing giant.
That is a measure of how Alex Ferguson’s Empire, one upon which the sun declined to set for fully 20 years, has shrivelled.
On Thursday, after months of corrosion, Van Gaal arrived at a point of rupture, a place beyond parody and further debate.
The Dutchman became the ferryman of Greek myth transporting the newly-dead United across the River Styx to football’s underworld.
For a manager who has invested £250m in 20 months, losing to a backwater Danish side who had not played a game in two months represented a new putrefying level of calamity.
It ended all argument about the next urgent step: It is the humane option now of putting the worn-out Van Gaal out of his misery.
If Woodward is unwilling to inject the lethal serum, then he too is unfit for purpose and should himself feel the Glazers euthanising needle prod.
Imagine if Real Madrid – the blue blood rivals against which United like to measure themselves – had faltered so mortifyingly in Europe.
The repercussions would hardly begin and end with 800 raging supporters, propelled by their growing impotence and incredulity, to the self-mocking chorus of “We’re f***ing shit”. Before the echo of the final whistle had faded, Florentino Perez would have fixed the coach responsible in the pathway of his matador’s sword and pitilessly lunged.
There is no longer the remotest justification for allowing Van Gaal even an hour to clear his Carrington office-desk. Whether Woodward’s reflexes have been dulled by sentiment, cowardice, or self-preservation (the Dutchman was very much the executive vice-chairman’s call) no longer matters.
If he is not willing to man the guillotine then his head, too, must be lopped off at the neck. United’s reputation as serious players is further decomposing with each passing day.
Van Gaal – in his clueless arrogance,the self-destructive hubris – has presided over ruinous decline. Even his armour-plated self-confidence appears to have been breached by the impact of this unimagined Danish torpedo. Little wonder.
Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Bournemouth, Norwich, Swansea and now, in a whole new landmark of decay, Midtjylland, are among those to have chipped away at United’s aura where now only dust remains.
Some 12 points adrift of Leicester, a team whose entire upstart starting XI cost significantly less than Memphis Depay, the Red Devil crest no longer causes opponents to remotely tremble or quiver.
United are everyday; wound after wound has reduced the long-time Premier League aces to just another insignificant card in the pack. Van Gaal has hit rock bottom yet Woodward seems content to permit him to continue drilling.
If Juan Mata illustrated, with his waxwork defending in the seconds before the Danish kill shot, why he faces a second Mourinho exiling, the timid Spaniard will not be alone.
United are a residue of former glories; Self-confidence annihilated, reputation massacred, if they remain a titan of the corporate world, they’re a shrunken sporting force.
Defensively, they have strayed into entirely new areas of ineptitude; no amount of injuries can remotely excuse Thursday’s absence of structure, basic organisation or spatial awareness.
Among their back five, United included a World Cup finalist, a World Cup semi-finalist and, in Chris Smalling, a player talked about in the early months of the season as a potential Footballer of the Year.
Yet Van Gaal was unable to construct anything more coherent than an anarchic rabble. Wayne Rooney has been pilfered from attack, but even with the talismanic Englishman fit and well, Old Trafford endured 11 mind-numbing scoreless first-halves in succession.
And if United look increasingly threadbare, it is largely because Van Gaal chose to hastily offload the authentic blue-chip options that Chicarito and even an ebbing Robin van Persie might have offered. Woodward opted for a manager who is a shadow of the titan of Spain, Germany and Holland.
In his inability to locate any remnants of the best of those days, Van Gaal has presided over rapid decline, taken a vandal’s axe to the palace where United once resided as kings of the football world.
As a thrilling season unspools toward a climax, United are no more than dull, dime-a-dozen afterthoughts.
So far removed from their old seat of power, the persistence with Van Gaal amounts to an acceptance of the new mediocrity.
Meanwhile Mourinho simmers in the margins, itching for the stage he always believed he was born to bestride. If United retain any recollection of all they once were, then the Portuguese really ought to be strolling the boards by the time United arrive at Shrewsbury’s New Meadow on Monday night.
Anything else and the FA Cup might just represent another marker post on the road to nowhere.