Van Gaal: from hero to zero as Man Utd get a fast downgrade

Aug 18, 2014
Jonathan Harwood

United boss and Jose Mourinho already feeling the heat having played one game between them

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With the new season less than a week old the knives are already being sharpened for Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal and his Chelsea counterpart Jose Mourinho, whose team has yet to even play a game.

After going unbeaten in pre-season Manchester United were stunned by Swansea at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season, and in the space of 90 minutes Van Gaal went from miracle worker to mere mortal.

And in the wake of defeat the Dutchman admitted that all the confidence built up during the pre-season had been "smashed". The papers, meanwhile, have been quick stamp out any remaining signs of optimism at Old Trafford.

All those who believed United would be a force to be reckoned with this season were basing their predictions on "a barrel-load of assumptions supported by little more than those summer exhibition fixtures masquerading as football matches", says Chris Bascombe of the Daily Telegraph. After watching the Swansea game "Manchester United's revolution under Louis Van Gaal would appear to be three new signings short of an acceptable transfer window," he adds.

That does not necessarily chime with what his colleague, Gary Neville, wrote in same paper on Saturday when he announced that Van Gaal and his captain Wayne Rooney would "help lift Manchester United back into the Champions League" this season.

Also on Saturday, seven out of ten Times sports reporters predicted that United would finish in the top four this season. On Monday the paper's football editor Tony Evans, one of those who did not back United, took umbrage at his colleagues. "Louis van Gaal is not the panacea to Old Trafford's problems," he wrote.  "They were widely tipped to regain a top-four place and some pundits imagined a Van Gaal-led title challenge. It is wishful thinking."

He added that United need to invest £200m on new players to regain their position at the top of the table.

So bad was defeat to Swansea that it rekindled memories of last season for Paul Wilson in The Observer on Sunday. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?" he mused. "Perhaps a little harsh after one match, but to paraphrase Pete Townshend the Manchester United faithful are in no mood to get fooled again [and]... this was much too reminiscent of the struggles of last season for comfort."

He reprised the theme on Monday: "United need three or four major new signings, and quick... what happens in the next two weeks could be crucial. Van Gaal has been around big clubs long enough to know how they work. Without results no manager is bulletproof."

It was, however, a different story before the Swansea match. In Saturday's Guardian Daniel Taylor said Van Gaal had restored United's hope, but pointed out that he was well known for "slow starts" and it might "be a few months before everything takes shape at Manchester United". Fellow Guardian writer Dietmar Hamann was less circumspect. "Forget about Chelsea, I have a feeling that Van Gaal's United will be the biggest threat to [Manchester] City," he announced.

Talking of Chelsea, it seems as if Mourinho could be feeling the heat pretty soon, too. His side have yet to play this season but he is already on a "war footing" according to  Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail. Last year Chelsea won no silverware, and few managers escape Roman Abramovich's wrath when that happens.

"When Mourinho was first retained after a disappointing campaign, he did not make it out of September. Second time around, he has been given more time, a year to shape a younger team and this whole season to make it work — but one imagines there the indulgence ends.

"Mourinho knows what is expected and the attitude that is required to deliver it. He is preparing for his toughest season."

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