Van Gaal goes the way of most coaches


Sports talk The mo­ment pro­fes­sional coaches sign on, they’re on their way to be­ing sacked.

So Manch­ester United fi­nally sacked Louis van Gaal. The club man­age­ment was des­per­ate to wield the axe for months.

Within min­utes of Man U win­ning the FA Cup fi­nal, once the show­piece of the English football sea­son, van Gaal was gone. Fu­ri­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions were al­ready well ad­vanced with The Special One, as Jose Mour­inho de­scribes him­self.

That’s the same Mour­inho who was sacked by Chelsea last De­cem­ber.

Van Gaal was sent pack­ing af­ter two years. Man U fin­ished fifth in the league and won the FA Cup this sea­son.

It’s a bit rough to call that a dis­mal sea­son. Vir­tu­ally any pro­fes­sional football club in Eng­land would love that sort of ‘‘fail­ure’’. But Man U are judged by dif­fer­ent stan­dards.

The All Blacks can win 10 straight tests, then have one loss and be the sub­ject of hand­wring­ing and head-shak­ing. Any de­feat is un­ac­cept­able.

So it is with Man U. Win­ning the FA Cup wasn’t enough, be­cause in fin­ish­ing fifth in the league (ac­tu­ally fourth equal), the club didn’t qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League, an ex­pen­sive and em­bar­rass­ing fail­ure.

It was said Man U weren’t at­tack­ing enough. Un­der Van Gaal they were ‘‘bor­ing’’ their fans. That is laugh­able.

If Man U went through the sea­son un­beaten and won ev­ery match 1-0 (a bit like Le­ices­ter City this sea­son), would their fans com­plain about lack of en­ter­tain­ment? Not likely. It’s the ticks in theW­col­umn that count.

Van Gaal has had suc­cess with Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alk­maar and Bay­ern Munich. His win­ning per­cent­age at Man U was 52.4.

David Moyes, his pre­de­ces­sor at Man U, was sacked even faster, de­spite a win­ning per­cent­age of 52.9. Be­fore them the in­com­pa­ra­ble Alex Fer­gu­son won 59.6 per cent of his matches.

No other Man U man­ager in the past cen­tury, not even the much-lauded Matt Busby, reached 52 per cent. Van Gaal’s ‘‘fail­ure’’ was only rel­a­tive.

I won­der about the thought pro­cesses be­hind the con­stant sack­ing of sports coaches. It’s child­ish and of­ten self-de­feat­ing.

The New Zealand Rugby Union broke with tra­di­tion when it re­tained Gra­ham Henry de­spite the All Blacks’ in­glo­ri­ous 2007 World Cup cam­paign. The re­sult? World Cup vic­tory in 2011.

Of course, the in­flu­ence of coaches can be over­stated. Ian Chap­pell and Shane Warne of­ten claim a coach is only good for driv­ing the team bus, and were par­tic­u­larly dis­parag­ing of John Buchanan, who built a fan­tas­tic record as Aus­tralian cricket coach.

But Buchanan could call on qual­ity play­ers such as the Waugh broth­ers, Gilchrist, Hay­den, Langer, Ponting, Clarke, Warne, McGrath, Lee and Gille­spie. He couldn’t help but have a great record with that lot.

It’s al­ways been a lot eas­ier to sack the coach than the star play­ers.

So in the West Indies in 1995, when Chris Cairns and Adam Parore walked out on the New Zealand cricket team, coach Glenn Turner (ap­pointed to in­stil dis­ci­pline in the side) was dumped and Cairns and Parore were wel­comed back.

Pro­fes­sional coaches are on to a loser. The mo­ment they sign on, they’re on their way to be­ing sacked – the date just hasn’t been con­firmed.

That’s how I feel about van Gaal.

How­ever, I’m not bleed­ing for him – he did leave Manch­ester United with £6 mil­lion (about NZ$12.5 mil­lion) as a pay-off!


Louis van Gaal cel­e­brates the FA Cup tri­umph with de­fender Chris Smalling. Van Gaal learned shortly af­ter the match he was los­ing his job.

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