Louis van Gaal's transfer dealings for Manchester United should be under scrutiny
If Manchester United miss out on Champions League qualification this season, having seemingly had a top four finish within their grasp until a run of three successive defeats, the transfer dealings of Louis van Gaal will come under intense scrutiny.
And while questions will be rightly be asked about the merits of signing Radamel Falcao just seven months after the Colombian forward suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury and Van Gaal’s failure to add to his squad in January, the players allowed to leave Old Trafford may also hang uncomfortably over the United manager.
Darren Fletcher, who captained West Bromwich Albion to victory against United on Saturday, is a prime example of a player allowed to leave too soon by Van Gaal.
Javier Hernandez, whose recent flurry of goals on loan for Real Madrid have helped cover up a difficult season in La Liga, would arguably have scored more than the four goals contributed by Falcao this term, while Danny Welbeck may also have offered greater options up-front than the unproven James Wilson, who has barely featured under Van Gaal.
But Fletcher’s versatility and reliability were allowed to leave Old Trafford for The Hawthorns in January, despite United having just two players -- Michael Carrick and Daley Blind -- capable of performing successfully as a holding midfielder.
Fletcher would not have played every week had he stayed, but his value to the squad would have been borne out during Carrick’s recent absences, if only because his presence would have spared Van Gaal from having to deploy Wayne Rooney in midfield.
Van Gaal was right to conclude that Fletcher was not the future for United, but with Champions League qualification a must this season, perhaps it was unwise to weaken the squad by allowing the Scot to leave.
Performance of the weekend
Newcastle managers are prone to the odd public meltdown, and there can surely be no doubt that John Carver will be remembered for the moment when he took a deep breath and decided to announce to the world that Mike Williamson had deliberately got himself sent off against Leicester.
It may not quite be up there with Kevin Keegan’s “I’d love it if we beat them” rant, or Ruud Gullit’s decision to drop Alan Shearer for a Tyne-Wear derby, but you have to admire Carver’s commitment to maintaining fine Newcastle traditions.
If only certain players showed that same dedication to the cause.
Boast of the week
Nigel Pearson and ‘Ostrichgate’. “I think you are an ostrich. Your head must be in the sand. Is your head in the sand? Are you flexible enough to get your head in the sand? My suspicion would be no. I can, you can’t.”
Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson, harangues a reporter after the midweek defeat by Chelsea, in the undisputed highlight of the Premier League season.
Where do we draw the line on publicity stunts?
If you asked Brendan Rodgers how to combat the aerial threat before Saturday’s victory over QPR, his immediate reaction might have been to be to play a couple of giant centre-backs and a holding midfielder to pick up the second balls.
That wasn’t quite how it turned out as the airspace above Anfield was hijacked by a modern day Dick Dastardly with a slogan calling for the manager’s departure. Rodgers had his own retort, but the most pertinent observation came from Kop fanzine ‘The Liverpool Way’ suggesting Fenway Sports Group invest in anti-aircraft missiles on completion of the Main Stand.
A suggestion it was the work of a ‘Liverpool supporters group’ was published by one outlet without any justification – none would ever assume it spoke for everyone else and call for the removal of a manager (not even Roy Hodgson, who might have earned a squadron of red arrows over Anfield given some of the performances).
It is a broader problem for managers, however, when those with plenty of cash and a publicity seeking strategy to make David Ginola blush cast themselves as a spokesman for a generation. A lone gunman is presented as acting for all, when that is not the case.
The trouble is, in terms of hogging the limelight, it works, particularly in the social media age. The photograph goes viral within seconds and we now live in an era where the context, validity and value of the story is secondary to how many clicks it will get. Every reputable news agency who ran that photograph was well briefed by the reporter on the spot about how crass Liverpool supporters said it was and the suspicion no-one with affiliations to the club was responsible, but all felt a compulsion to run it anyway – although given Rodgers reacted to it (when asked) there was not much choice.
There might be intellectual superiority to be assumed by ignoring what amounts to the trolling of a football club and its manager, but we haven’t quite worked out whether we should embrace it in the digital age.
There was a time we would be strong enough to say an attention-seeking cockpit clown should be ignored, as pretty much everyone inside Anfield did. Instead, the act itself becomes newsworthy begging the question where we would draw the line?
If a bloke in a chimp costume ran onto the pitch and defecated in the centre circle, would we feel a necessity to post a video grab because of the sheer peculiarity of it all? Would the rush to justify reporting it lead many to imply it was a fan protest against the state of the Anfield pitch, which is evidently in need of a new fertiliser given how patchy it is looking these days?
The stunt had the desired effect, which wasn't about removing the Liverpool manager but giving those who booked the pilot something to laugh about with their mates. One can only hope Rodgers goes on to prove it was a waste of air miles.