Sunday 25 February 2018

Comment: Van Gaal's 'fat man' jibe shows he's no better than rejected Jose Mourinho

Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho
Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Reservations over Jose Mourinho’s feisty character blocked his appointment as Manchester United manager in the summer of 2013, yet the figure currently holding the keys of power at Old Trafford now stands accused of allowing his standards to slip.

When Louis van Gaal pointed at members of the assembled media and identified one he disliked more than most as “fat man”, the confrontational ego that has been waiting to escape from this veteran tactician was giving an unfortunate airing.

Those who have followed Van Gaal throughout his colourful career have been surprised by his refusal to snap back at the media who have hounded him with increasing relish in recent weeks, with his discredited football philosophy used as a stick to beat him with as he approaches the end of his glittering career.

A walk-out from a press conference at the height of the #LVGOut Twitter storm over the Christmas period is the closest this unflinchingly confident tactician has come to losing his cool in public, with a coach who knows his time will be up soon whatever happens to his team seemingly losing his legendary eagerness to indulge in verbal sparring with the media.

That was before his guard was lowered as he ridiculed The Sun reporter Neil Custis following Tuesday night’s 3-3 draw against Newcastle, with his unprofessional comments delivered seconds before he left the room following his latest aggressive press conference.

Then Leicester boss Pearson suggested reporter Ian Baker was “not flexible enough” to bend his head into imaginary sand, in comments that were construed to be a snipe at the reporter’s less than athletic physique, with a swift apology from the sniping manager confirming the errors of his ways.

Evidently, Van Gaal should apologise to Custis for his ‘fattish’ jibe when he meets the media on Friday, but that would be an out of character move for a manager who has a long-standing reputation for rarely admitting he is wrong.

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It may be that Van Gaal regrets his grumpy outburst and the furore it has stirred up, with memories of Nigel Peason’s bizarre claim that a reporter was “an ostrich with his head in the sand” last year revived by this latest press conference confrontation.

That unshakable self-belief is one of the reasons why United fans have grown tired of the Van Gaal mantra in the last year, with a rising majority of the clubs supporters concluding that the Dutchman who they believed could transform their club for the better has become a negative force holding back their ambitions.

Fresh reports in The Times on Thursday suggesting Van Gaal will be sacked if United lose against Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday will do little to improve his mood in the coming days and when the epitaph on his time as the club’s manager is chronicled, this most recent unseemly incident may well be marked down as one of his final acts of defiance.

Mourinho’s availability and apparent desire to succeed Van Gaal means a decision on the kind of character United would employ as his replacement may soon become a subject for debate once more and maybe a more pressing questions should be considered when the next king of Old Trafford is given a coronation.

Offering relentless backing to an ageing manager who has not won the Champions League trophy for two decades is proving to be an increasingly pointless task for the Old Trafford hierarchy and if they are content with Van Gaal’s explosive and occasionally abusive personality traits, then maybe they would consider taking on his former pupil Mourinho at last.

First and foremost, Manchester United is a football club that should care about winning trophies and if Pep Guardiola is destined to join Manchester City next June, then their local rivals need to find a manager from this era of champions who can take them back to where they want to be.

Maybe bad boy Mourinho isn’t so bad after all.

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