The Thrill is Gone

By Mark Payne

The headlines last week were so different. Just seven days ago Louis van Gaal was a tactical mastermind who had defeated the old enemy in their own back yard. Now he is closer to the sack than any other manager in England’s top division. The Dutchman’s fit with Manchester United is not a clean one, it may be time for a clean break.

The ceremony around going to a game of football is half of the enjoyment. For me personally, this includes spending time with family, catching a train, meeting up with friends before kick off and kicking through some comfortable and familiar old routines.

The process of being a football fan is far larger than simply watching the game of football. It is being part of a community at large and persevering with processes through fair weather and foul.

Things are foul at Manchester United at the moment. At least the football is. “It was a poor game for the fans,” said Louis in the aftermath. What he did not add is this is far from the first time.

There is a temptation to panic, but panic is a spontaneous and frantic feeling. The emotion at Old Trafford right now has been building for a while and is being expressed in a clear and controlled way. The fans are not happy and we have been patient enough.

Those routines that we follow around going to the match are still in place, but all of the joy has been extracted out of the equation. Instead of skipping to the ground in the hope of seeing something sublime and exciting, watching United is a little like attending a family event in honour of somebody you no longer like. It is painful and the end cannot come quick enough.

As fans, it is all we can do at the moment to leave without starting an unnecessary squabble that we will all regret in the end. Nonetheless, things can’t continue like this. Whilst the problems at United are not all the fault of Louis van Gaal, it is he who must take the lion’s share of the blame for the performances on the pitch.

If Claudio Ranieri can take Leicester to the summit of the Premier League with a bunch of players who were close to the bottom last year, then maybe the job of manager is not so overrated.

It is utterly absurd that United cannot score first half goals, this was the eleventh such fixture in a row at home. Teams like Southampton should be picked up and thrown around like fish in the jaws of a killer whale. Instead, they dealt with United comfortably and took their chance when it arrived.

In Louis’s defence the injuries are ludicrous at the moment. Five defensive casualties would be a lot for anybody to contend with, but the problems run deeper than this. The lack of adventure or initiative in United’s football is simply unacceptable.

This point has been addressed several times and nothing has changed. “We didn’t create any chances,” said Louis. Quite frankly, they damn well should be creating chances. That is the job of Manchester United teams, to create chances and put them away. Getting to half time scoreless for eleven consecutive home games is gross misconduct.

Reports in the Independent suggest Jose Mourinho has written a six-page lover letter to United explaining why he would be the ideal manager for them. His agent Jorge Mendes denies this but something is surely afoot. Separate reports put United officials in a meeting with Pep Guardiola this week in Paris.

My suspicion is that after this result Louis will depart either imminently or at the end of the season. The mathematics of our current position put Champions League football at risk, let alone a tilt at the title.


Even if United do change managers sooner rather than later, there are other issues to contend with. The lack of cohesion in transfer strategy is glaring and the club have bought far too many melons in the last three transfer windows.

With City eating up the larger proportion of local footballing youngsters, the academy requires instant attention too. Manchester United have a battle on their hands both on and off the field at the moment.

Bringing in Jose Mourinho is not going solve all of those problems. It may, however, be a good place to start.

Mark is the author of Fergie’s Last Stand, just £3 this January

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