By Mark Payne
Friday night football is no bad thing. For now, Manchester United and their supporters can relax and enjoy the rest of the weekend’s FA Cup ties knowing the eleven times champions are already through to the next round.
Wayne Rooney is getting there too. He is now only six goals behind Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record for Manchester United and, at this rate, he could claim it by mid-March. The crisis surrounding the club’s manager overshadows this, but a magnificent achievement in now within touching distance.
Things are getting a little repetitive even in the mini-narrative of this current crisis. Every time Louis van Gaal tries to resign, he is rebuffed and then his players produce a decent performance. Louis lives to fight another day.
Manchester United can be divided, like most football clubs, into four pillars of power; the players, the board and owners, the manager and the supporters. If all of those pillars are in unison, then success will surely follow. If three are in line, then good times are also likely.
For a long time at United, there has been a direct conflict of interests between the supporters and the owners of the institution. Under Fergie, the fans and the players and the manager were basically on the same team.
The lasting criticism of Ferguson is that, simultaneously, he was also unified with the Glazer family and the horrendous debt-laden ownership model of the club. However, whilst games were being won and trophies wheeled in, this was accepted to an extent.
Without results and success to point to, inevitably, the fans are going to be disgruntled. United fans know they have good players and have naturally channelled their disgruntlement towards the manager. Some players of course, Fellaini for example, are singled out for letting the side down, but Louis gets the brunt.
Despite the strategic leaking of certain information to the press, Louis’s attempted resignation and Mourinho’s letter, chairman Ed Woodward and Van Gaal are presenting a united front at the moment.
The fundamental problem at Manchester United though is the lack of connection between the supporters, the owners and the players. In fairness to Louis and the squad, they do an enormous amount of charity and community work both in Manchester and globally.
Nonetheless, for a long while the football has been gloomy with little chance of sporadic attacks. This victory over Derby, and in particular Rooney’s sublime opening goal, go some way to repairing the damage. The wound remains gaping and open though.
For all of the qualities that Derby possess, they are fourth in the Championship and should not be a match for a squad assembled at the cost of United’s. For large patches of this match Derby were in the ascendant and United looked decidedly wobbly when they equalised before half time. It is a worry.
Personally I am surprised LVG has continued as manager. I admire his cojones though. He is a proud and determined man and doesn’t want to finish his career as a loser. Who can blame him?
To remain United manager from here on in, he must keep winning. It is as simple as that. On both of the occasions the manager has allegedly resigned, the players have responded with improved performances. There are obviously those who continue to believe in the Dutchman’s methodology.
Those in the stands, and on the coaches, and in the pubs, remain unconvinced though. It is one game at a time for Louis and chums at the moment. I suppose it always is.
Mark is the author of Fergie’s Last Stand, just £3 this January
Follow him on www.twitter.com/markjpayne