Kevin Palmer: After Stoke loss, we'll soon be writing Louis Van Gaal's sporting epitaph
Louis van Gaal played his final cards as Manchester United manager at Stoke and after his side crumbled to a limp and depressing 2-0 defeat, he now needs to be removed from his post.
This may be the era of knee-jerk reactions when it comes to assessing a crumbling managerial regimes, but Van Gaal’s problems at United have long since become terminal. Now it is a matter of when and not if his is fired.
This is not a media bandwagon to get rid of Van Gaal. Not at all. United failing doesn't sell more papers or create extra clicks on a website. Anything this club does creates interest, so there is no joy in seeing Van Gaal run out of office and yet we can all see that he now needs to go.
With the 20 games left in the season offering a real chance for Mourinho, Giggs or whoever will replace Van Gaal to revive a team that is sadly lacking in confidence and guidance, but the change needs to be made right now.
While the presence of Jose Mourinho as an out-of-work manager has done little to banish the notion that there are better options for United to turn to, that sideshow should not be the most significant factor when Old Trafford officials make the call on Van Gaal’s future.
While some will have reservations about hiring Mourinho, the truth must be that the LVG story at United needs to come to an end in the next few days, with the incompetence of their display at Stoke confirming what many have been suggesting for many a long month now.
His depressing doctrine is no longer working, we can all see that. United’s players don’t want to play for him any more and their eagerness to embrace the ideas of a manager whose days of success appear to be consigned to his past. This is a story edging towards an inevitable conclusion with Van Gaal increasingly unlikely to see out 2015 as the club’s manager.
“This is Manchester United we are playing for, a special club. We need to be doing better,” declared United midfielder Michael Carrick after the game at Stoke and he was not wrong in that blunt assessment. Yet you suspect that upturn in fortunes can no longer be orchestrated when the man creating the problem is still sitting in the dug-out.
Van Gaal has tried every player in his squad, used every available tactic and thrown his every last ounce of energy into his job. He deserves credit for that at least.
Yet on a day when he finally decided to drop Wayne Rooney, even his final act as United manager didn’t work.
Leaving skipper Rooney out of his line-up offered a chance to the rest of his stars to sparkle, but they lacked the class and fight to respond to his call.
Juan Mata, Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera should have had enough sparkle between them to give Van Gaal’s side some cutting edge, but pre-match optimism for United quickly evaporated once the referee blew his whistle to start the match.
United were pathetic against upbeat opponents and on a day when Van Gaal had a right to expect a battling performance from his team, he got anything but in an opening 45 minutes that may have been the most lamentable in his time at the club.
Second to most balls, unable to enforce their will on the game and, to use an expression their manager hinted at after game, scared to play, this was a Manchester United team hitting rock bottom and Stoke were good enough to take advantage with goals from Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic.
The introduction at Rooney injected a little fight into his team after the break, but Van Gaal’s post match interview with Sky Sports summed up a perception that he is now waiting to be sacked as United manager. When asked whether the people that matter at United were still behind him, he offered up this unconvincing response.
“People are looking at me and I have to deal with that and the players have to deal with that,” declared Van Gaal, before he was asked whether he still had the backing of the club. “We have lost the fourth game now and we have to wait and see.”
Whether it happens prior to the game against Chelsea on Monday or in the opening week of January ahead of the FA Cup tie against Sheffield United on January 9th, Van Gaal will soon join the ranks of former United managers in what will be a tragic end to a fine managerial career.
Sadly for Van Gaal and all associated with Manchester United, this has proved to be one job too far for one of Europe’s most iconic coaching talents of his era.
It will soon be time to write his sporting epitaph.