Bell tolls for Van Gaal

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

MANCH­ESTER — It has been over for a while, the drip, drip ef­fect of a foot­ball club in demise, the slow low­er­ing of ex­pec­ta­tions, the blind ig­nor­ing of re­al­ity.

More con­fir­ma­tion came on Satur­day af­ter­noon, when the weight of words, this time from Louis van Gaal ( pic­tured) him­self, was added to the wel­ter of sta­tis­tics the pros­e­cu­tion has piled up against him.

You know it’s over when the man­ager starts ques­tion­ing the de­sire of his own play­ers. Van Gaal did that when he said the 13 times cham­pi­ons of the Premier League could not match the pas­sion and de­sire of a side who started and ended the day se­cond bot­tom of that league.

In the more com­fort­ing sur­rounds of the club’s own tele­vi­sion sta­tion, his guard slipped fur­ther. He was wor­ried, he said, when he watched the warm-up. His play­ers did not look up for it.

The sta­tis­tics were once more trudged through. The low­est points to­tal af­ter 26 games for Manch­ester United in the Premier League. The low­est num­ber of goals scored by the club at this stage of a sea­son. The fail­ure to win 17 of the last 26 games. Fewer points than the vil­i­fied and jet­ti­soned David Moyes, twice as much money spent. They were trot­ted out like a weary pros­e­cu­tion which pours on the ev­i­dence for a jury to reach its in­evitable con­clu­sion.

The case against Van Gaal did not need the sta­tis­tics, but they cer­tainly add to it. Those pre­sent­ing it were weary. The team looks weary. Even the gusto that used to fol­low the club’s away sup­port has been di­luted by a man­ager who is lead­ing a club on a slow down­ward path.

“Manch­ester United have made no progress what­so­ever un­der Louis van Gaal,” said Alan Shearer in the Match of the Day stu­dio, late on Satur­day evening. “I don’t see any pro­gres­sion what­so­ever.”

Shearer was right, but it is no longer about a search for progress, it is now about the speed of de­cline.

Sun­der­land ver­sus Manch­ester United in the Premier League had not pro­duced a home win since 1997. They had ter­races back then and it was at Roker Park. The mod­ern era was five years old. It was ages ago. That was the only pre­vi­ous home vic­tory for Sun­der­land over United in the Premier League. It is a fix­ture they do not win, and in Sam Al­lardyce’s re­cent re­vival of a club which for long spells of this sea­son has looked ready to be washed away came the star­tling re­al­i­sa­tion that a third goal for the home side was as likely as an equaliser in the clos­ing stages.

Wayne Rooney has watched – and par­tic­i­pated in – the col­lapse of United from cham­pi­ons to also-rans. He spoke with anger af­ter­wards about be­ing se­cond best, but the team over­all does not share the cap­tain’s fire.

John O’shea won five league ti­tles at Old Traf­ford. He has re­vived re­mark­ably, like the Sun­der­land team he cap­tains, to­wards the cam­paign’s close. He knows that the top four, which is slip­ping out of view for his for­mer side, is the very least ex­pected of them each sea­son.

“Yeah, it is,” he said. “That is the given be­fore­hand, when you look at the squads and the bud­gets and what is spent at clubs to get into the Cham­pi­ons League. Not just Man United – the top five and six spend big to get into the Cham­pi­ons League, be­cause that’s where the re­wards are and that’s what at­tracts big­ger and bet­ter play­ers. That is the chal­lenge they have.”

He was asked if his old club re­tains its old aura. “Be­cause of the sea­son they are hav­ing and the amount of in­juries they have got, it’s dif­fi­cult for them,” he replied. “They’re not chal­leng­ing where they want to be in the ta­ble, that’s for sure.

“They still have some very good at­tack­ing play­ers. I thought our full-backs did par­tic­u­larly well in clos­ing them down, but they don’t have as many play­ers as they used to have.”

He meant as many good play­ers, but O’shea was be­ing gen­er­ous, as his for­mer team had been to Sun­der­land. Al­lardyce has added power, co­he­sion and shape to Sun­der­land, but nei­ther of their goals would have been scored if the vis­i­tors had had a good cen­tre-half.

Da­ley Blind lost Jer­main De­foe for the first, an in­nocu­ous free-kick from Wahbi Khazri that sneaked past David De Gea. Chris Smalling lost Lamine Koné for the se­cond, a header that An­thony Mar­tial – who had struck a fine equaliser be­fore half-time – could only re­di­rect off De Gea into the United goal with eight min­utes re­main­ing.

In an­other time, De Gea would have saved both the goal and the blushes of a cen­tral de­fen­sive part­ner­ship that so char­ac­terises the demise of the club – but good play­ers get dragged down by medi­ocrity. — in­de­pen­dent.

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