LONDON: Manchester United’s week, which began with braggart talk of bids for Neymar, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, ended in embarrassed disarray after an early exit from the Champions League and defeat by bargain-basement Bournemouth which denied them the Premier League top spot writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Inbetween Louis Van Gaal lectured United’s increasingly disaffected fans on the Realpolitik of 2015: football has changed, they should no longer expect to wallow in the steady flow of trophies which had marked the Ferguson era.
Unfortunately for his fading credibility, Van Gaal’s strictures have been undermined over recent years by the glittering achievements of two of his own previous clubs: Barcelona and FC Bayern.
Talk from the boardroom of Premier League success ranking far above European glory also insults the memories and achievements of Matt Busby, Bobby Charlton, George Best and David Beckham who turned United from mere club into legend.
This glamorous aura and the mine of silverware at home and abroad were the factors which enabled United to attract 40 big-money sponsors from Salford to Shanghai and managers of the status of Van Gaal. But sometimes it seems as if the current version of United generates almost too much money for its own good.
Fans who accepted Van Gaal’s ‘formula football’ last season while the club regrouped following the post-Ferguson turbulence have lost patience after seeing the Dutchman spend £250m on players not fit to lace the old heroes’ boots. They believe they understand the soul of the club in a way Van Gaal, a mere bird of passage, never can.
United were a defensive shambles at Bournemouth. Junior Stanislas gave the Cherries a second-minute lead from a corner which David De Gea fumbled into the net. Marouane Fellaini pulled United level before they were killed off by a former youth product in Joshua King.
Van Gaal is not a Jose Mourinho clone who runs in search of the first excuse in defeat. He had complained about adverse refereeing decisions in Wolfsburg but only to illustrate how delicate can be the balance between victory and defeat. But United are without a win in their last five games in all competitions.
The Glazers and similarly under-fire executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward still have faith in Van Gaal and even believe the lucrative new £5.14bn Premier League deal is restricting English clubs’ hopes of winning Europe’s biggest prize.
The TV companies are not interested in moving games to Friday night which would offer players more recovery time ahead of Tuesday evening matches in Europe. So Van Gaal must work with what he has.
Under the new deal the 2017 champions will earn more than £150m and the rest of the top four will all receive at least £140m, an increase of around 50pc. Hard to argue against such figures.
On Saturday night Van Gaal said: “The manager and the players cannot accept that we have conceded two goals from set pieces. We lost in Wolfsburg for that reason too and this is a strong lesson for us.
“Losing two games in a row is very unusual for Manchester United so now we have to win three in a row to get back to where we were. I believe I have the selection of players available to win the Premier League.”
So the fans must accept it: Sorry about the Champions League but who cares about Europe, anyway?