Sunday 21 January 2018

Comment: Manchester United losing badly in their own waiting game

Michael Carrick, centre, did not enjoy his return to former club West Ham
Michael Carrick, centre, did not enjoy his return to former club West Ham
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Sam Wallace

There was an enlightening story from one official on the Manchester United team coach targeted in the Green Street ambush on Tuesday night that told you much about the cumulative effects of too many beers on one West Ham fan combined with a lachrymose farewell to an old ground.

As the bottles struck the windows and the security staff told the United players and officials to move into the aisle, a few inside were mesmerised by the sight of one home fan who broke through the crowd and walked up to the coach. With rage aplenty but no discernible plan, he peered through the glaze, considered his options and then butted the window.

As with the infamous police horse-punching incident in Newcastle in 2013, one can only imagine who came off the worst in this particular encounter.

It was a night that started in surreal fashion for United, and got worse.

They came with their Champions League future intact, they left with it wrecked again, and yet nothing happened to Louis van Gaal's team that we did not already know, or indeed that the Dutchman had not predicted himself before the game.

Yes, United were susceptible at set-pieces; Marcos Rojo looks off the pace; Anthony Martial is the side's outstanding outfield player, capable of rescuing his team up to a point; and, when push comes to shove, Van Gaal would still prefer to send on Adnan Januzaj, farmed out on loan, than the woefully underperforming £26m Memphis Depay.

Louis van Gaal says the Manchester United board will decide if he remains as manager
Louis van Gaal says the Manchester United board will decide if he remains as manager

United's Champions League future now hangs on a game taking place 190 miles away from Old Trafford at the Liberty Stadium. After 37 games, is that to be the defining factor on whether Van Gaal is a suitable manager for United for the next season? Is Swansea City's capacity, or otherwise, to beat Manchester City to be decisive in whether he stays or goes?

If it turns out that United do qualify for the Champions League on Sunday it will be on the back of a monumental failure by their city rivals who, having thrown away the initiative more than once in the race for fourth place, now have it back.

Fourth place for United would be one of those last-day dramas, a moment when they could savour a famous collapse from one of their biggest rivals, but it will not change one bit the bigger picture, so obvious against West Ham on Tuesday night.

You might say that by the same standards, City too have failed in the league, but the crucial difference is that they have already made plans to change that next season with a new manager and a different approach.

There are no guarantees that Pep Guardiola will deliver them all they want, but at least it is a plan.

It was reported yesterday that Mourinho has endorsed the signings of 18-year-old Portugal international Renato Sanches and Everton’s John Stones. Photo: Getty

The prospect of Jose Mourinho being appointed by United this summer changed at the end of last month when the Portuguese coach was given to believe, at last, that he was a viable option for the club.

He wants the deal concluded swiftly to give him the maximum amount of time to work on the squad and, like all competent negotiators, he has alternatives.

Mourinho is adamant that this time he wants to manage a club on his terms, and he would be prepared to reject the offer to manage United if he felt that he was not being afforded the support he needs from the top of the club.

It is worth at this point asking what the United job would mean to Mourinho. He is not a man given to standing in wonder at the names of the past, or the size of the stadium.

Quite simply, managing United in 2016-2017 would mean going into battle with his arch-enemy, Guardiola, across town.

But not just that, it would be battling Guardiola while he is granted every resource he wants by City to win. Guardiola has been pursued by City for more than three years, his path to the Etihad Stadium scattered with petals.

Players have been loaned to the Girona team in Spain, co-owned by his brother and agent Pere. Transfer targets are well advanced and the club have placed such faith in him, they were prepared to torpedo Manuel Pellegrini mid-season just to make sure they got their man.

By comparison, United's offering to Mourinho, if it ever becomes a reality, is starting to look like it would be the managerial equivalent of a garage forecourt bouquet: selected in haste and for matters of convenience.

Perhaps, ultimately, Mourinho will not be the man for United, but the later they make their move for him in the summer - if they make the move - then the less reason he would have to trust their judgement.

Renato Sanches has signed for Bayern Munich

Already the picture next season is changing. The chance to sign Benfica's 18-year-old midfield prodigy Renato Sanches (above) was offered more than once to United by Jorge Mendes, agent to both the player and Mourinho, but it was not acted upon in time.

Carlo Ancelotti sanctioned the transfer swiftly. Bayern Munich, like City and Chelsea, have a manager in place for next season and that permits quick decisions.

That Mendes took Sanches to Bayern does not necessarily indicate that Mourinho will not join United this summer, if that, indeed, is what the club ultimately want to do. But what is it that Ed Woodward and the Glazer family want to do?

If they are waiting for the result between Swansea and Manchester City, or the FA Cup final, to tell them whether Van Gaal is the man for another year, then you have to wonder what they make of what has happened thus far.

Defeat by West Ham was anther setback, but the circumstances were hardly revelatory. The ambush outside the ground was a surprise, but the ambush on the pitch was entirely in keeping with their season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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