Things seem to be evolving very fast in England’s managerial space. What seemed a safe position at Chelsea for Jose Mourinho only a few months ago is now another man’s job. Granted, the worst title defense in English League history will tend to have that effect on a managerial situation. Just like that, one of the most recognizable and most praised managers in the world is out of work. Truth be told, his Chelsea side operated on thin margins. So often last season they won by the odd goal or were leading by a goal deep into the game before another sealed their opponent’s fate. This season the balance has been upset as the once almost impregnable defense has been breached and 1-0s are now reading 1-2. The result has been to effectively write Chelsea off the title as early as October and likely out of top four consideration barring a jolting and swift reversal in fortunes.
Another man operating on thin margins has been Louis van Gaal in Manchester. A man to whom Mourinho, incidentally, owes a lot to his development as a manager, van Gaal has sought to instill his self-professed philosophy at Old Trafford. Now that philosophy as willingly backed by many hopeful Manchester United fans seems to be diagonal and backward passes for much of the game with the intermittent foray forward. This sometimes results in a no look cross into the box that is cleared by a defender. Rinse and repeat.
Tide slowly turning
This sort of football has tested the patience of most. What it has now done now that the luck of the 1-0 and the brilliant form of Chris Smalling and the rest has tempered somewhat is to frustrate the many who were willing to wait and be patient for the manifestation of the philosophy of a genius. Operating on such thin margins as United have done and Chelsea did in the past under Mourinho is fine when backed by a defense such as the Chelsea of last season and seasons past or United up to the last three games. The tectonic shift had begun even before. In United’s case, the 1-0 first turned into 0-0. Three consecutive goalless draws in October to Man City, Middlesbrough, and Crystal Palace meant a Carling Cup opportunity gone and four dropped points in the league. The signs were beginning to surface even for the most optimistic of supporters. Never mind the sceptics who were befuddled at the sale or loan of most with any goal threat over the summer and the apparent faith placed in a rag tag, makeshift strike force of an aging Wayne Rooney, a 19 year old but talented Anthony Martial and the man for long ball desperation, Marouane Fellaini. They saw this becoming an issue from way sooner. November brought close victories, 1-0, 2-0, and 2-1 before the draws started becoming a nuisance once more. A nil-nil result at home against PSV Eindhoven made United’s Champions League progress uncertain. The ice was shifting under the weight. A 1-1 draw away to the surprise team Leicester City was not a bad result. Another draw with a West Ham team without Dimitri Payet raised concern with a must win Champions League tie to come. Then the disaster happened. The previously resolute United defense was torn apart on three separate occasions away to Wolfsburg as the unthinkable happened. The philosophy would grace the Europa League stage.
Now, van Gaal attempted to massage the massive disappointment by reminding the fanbase of how much an honour participation in the Europa League is and that they would seriously try to win the prestigious title. “This is where the club is” – to paraphrase. United fans would hardly be impressed by such pronouncements after the type of financial investment in this squad and the comparatively soft group United was handed. Two more one goal losses would follow to the lowly Bournemouth and Norwich City. Cue the panic. One wonders why the signs were not plainer to the eye. Drab football aside and all round glumness even in victory, United won by the odd goal or two too often for comfort. Man United has scored three goals on four occasions in the league in 2015/16, the last being on October 17 against Everton. If they continued to rely on scoring one or two goals each game then eventually results would take a terrible turn especially with a notoriously injury prone defensive cadre.
The Philosophical One to the Special One?
Ironically and very curiously, with Mourinho out at Chelsea, rumours have emerged that he might be the man to replace van Gaal should he be sacked. That seems to be trading Lite Soy Milk for Regular; slight flavour but still pretty bland. Man United fans must surely be conflicted and who can blame them. A manager with a world class reputation being linked with the job after overseeing a shambolic title defense versus persisting with a manager with a world class reputation doing precious little better than David Moyes who was seen to be disastrous even after spending just a couple hundred million pounds more.
It seems strange that United would entertain Mourinho given the fans’ growing displeasure at the lack of entertainment on display. These are worrying times at Old Trafford for everyone involved, not the least Louis van Gaal who must tread carefully if he is not to shatter that thin layer protecting him from icy managerial abyss.