Louis van Gaal was subjected to jeers from home fans near the touchline as he left the pitch following a third successive Manchester United defeat, yet he was probably more concerned by the chant the Norwich supporters kept up throughout the game: “José Mourinho is taking your job.”
With Rio Ferdinand suggesting Pep Guardiola might be a better option and publicly urging his former club to act swiftly and decisively before the Bayern Munich coach goes somewhere else, it seems to be open season on the faltering Dutch manager and even Van Gaal accepts it following Saturday’s humbling 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford.
“I think I can turn the situation around,” said. “My record suggests I am a very successful manager, although maybe now I should say I was a very successful manager.”
While Guardiola has long been a Manchester City target, Mourinho is available now andindicated yesterday he will not be taking a break but hopes to make a quick return to the game. One of the Portuguese’s management companies said in a statement: “He will not be taking a sabbatical, he isn’t tired, he doesn’t need it, he is very positive and is already looking forward.”
Steve Holland, his former assistant at Chelsea, has said big clubs are bound to be interested in him and Mourinho is not the sort of person who wants to spend months at home doing nothing.
Mourinho is a manager United considered as a successor to Sir Alex Ferguson, before passing over him in favour of David Moyes. That decision did not end well and, now the recruitment of Van Gaal is also becoming problematic, many supporters would like to see the club bite the bullet and reverse their original decision. It would cost a lost of money, with Van Gaal in mid-contract, though compared to the £250m the club has spent on players with no visible improvement the expense could be borne if the directors have the desire and the courage.
Van Gaal is perfectly well aware how football works and knows his job is in jeopardy if the present run of results continues, even without the spectre of Mourinho on the sidelines. “Of course I am worried about my job,” he said. “The team needs to believe in a manager, that is very important, and when you lose games like this that belief decreases. That is happening now, I cannot close my eyes to it, but I have to have confidence in my own ability to turn the situation around. I think I can do that, and I don’t think a change of manager at this stage would necessarily bring direct success. That’s what I believe, anyway.”
Supporters are beginning to form the opposite view and, as Van Gaal readily concedes the last few performances have not been good enough, they probably have a point. Some of his excuses have not been good enough either, for Moyes would never have dared to argue progress was being made, after United went out of the Champions League, because the side had gone a round further in the Capital One Cup
While Van Gaal can be forgiven for misreading the culture in a new country, he has been in Manchester for 18 months now and is still trying to turn a corner. Unless results improve dramatically, the club will sooner or later have to confront the fact that the whole succession has been botched. Plans B and C are going hopelessly awry. Plan A remains risky yet available.