The story of the week has been Will Smith’s outburst directed towards the Oscars’ host Chris Rock, but Louis van Gaal’s controversial comments on Manchester United dominated headlines in the United Kingdom the day before that incident across the Atlantic.
Van Gaal doesn’t exactly have Hollywood appeal but he has been known to provide a few box office moments. Van Gaal diving on the touchline at Old Trafford to mock Arsenal’s theatrics instantly comes to mind. He also asked for apologies from members of the media just before Christmas 2015 before storming out of the press conference. Van Gaal was feeling the pressure of managing United.
There’s not much pressure on Van Gaal these days. The 70-year-old is the Netherlands’ national team boss and the demands of international management pale in significance to coaching Barcelona, Bayern Munich or United. The Netherlands had underachieved when he accepted the job last year and he’s set to lead them at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
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Van Gaal hasn’t been known to bite his tongue and he admirably slammed the decision the play the World Cup in Qatar last week. He was soon making headlines again on Monday when asked about the possibility of Erik ten Hag succeeding Ralf Rangnick. Ten Hag has been interviewed for the permanent position at Old Trafford. And Van Gaal obviously had something to say about that.
“Erik ten Hag is a great coach, and that is always good for Manchester United,” Van Gaal said. “But Manchester United are a commercial club, so it’s a difficult choice for a coach. He’d better go to a football club.
“I’m not going to advise him, he’ll call me himself. But he must choose a football club and not a commercial club.”
Although Van Gaal said he wasn’t going to advise Ten Hag, his comments were contradictory. They were a warning to Ten Hag and intended to influence his decision by him. Van Gaal has remained consistent with his views of him on United since leaving the club. Van Gaal felt aggrieved at receiving the sack after his 2016 FA Cup final triumph and he’s not been afraid to take swipes at United.
Van Gaal is on record describing Ed Woodward as an ‘evil genius’ and labeling United’s previous executive vice-chairman ‘somebody with zero understanding of football who was previously an investment banker’. United fans certainly wouldn’t disagree with those comments. Woodward once infamously gloated that United could make money regardless of their ‘playing performance’.
Woodward is understood to regret that quote but the damage was done long ago. That comment from the May 2018 investors ‘call confirmed supporters’ suspicions. Their club was being used as a commercial vehicle with not much regard for what actually mattered – success and silverware. Woodward left the club in February and Richard Arnold has been installed as chief executive.
That position was last held by David Gill and Arnold will be aware he’s already fighting an uphill battle. He was promoted from his position as managing director, where he oversaw all commercial aspects of the club, and he has the challenge of proving that he’s different to Woodward. Arnold is friends with Woodward and the pair are fellow Bristol University graduates.
Arnold now has the responsibility of helping restore United to where they should be. The club has appeared to favor commercial priorities over performance on the pitch over the last decade and that needs to change. United need to prove Van Gaal’s comments earlier this week were wrong, but they’re already making quite the mess of that. That might not come as a surprise.
United confirmed their pre-season tour plans on Thursday morning, and will play three games in Thailand and Australia. The Manchester Evening News understands a fourth friendly could be played before a return to Manchester.
Those fixtures include a match against Liverpool in Bangkok and football director John Murtough revealed the club’s ‘delight’ to be able to tour abroad again after Covid-19. The announcement was par for the course, but some supporters would have noticed the choice of players used to promote the tour. Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo were prominent in the artwork.
Pogba’s recent comments on the club have angered supporters and he’s set to leave on a free transfer at the end of the season. The midfielder is being used to promote the pre-season tour when he – barring a strange U-turn – won’t even be on it and that’s interesting.
That commercial ploy could be enough to already prove Van Gaal’s comments on United were right. Pogba is considered to have played with the club over the last few seasons and yet he’s the face chosen to promote the tour around the world.
Surely United should have some dignity and not include him in the promotion. The club will always be bigger than any player.
That’s where United have gone wrong and it’s a lesson they need to learn from.
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