To say the least, it’s been an eventful two years under Louis van Gaal for Manchester United supporters
There has been certain pleasing moments under the Dutch boss, for instance, when Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and others rose through the ranks to prove their worth and nail a starting position down. Another moment of pleasure may have been when just for a moment, a brief, flicker of hope was swaying in the wind when the Red Devils made a hefty investment in an important and much-needed overhaul last summer.
However, these pleasurable moments were quickly put to one side as LvG continued to make dumbfounding remarks and decisions that no one can explain – even to this day with his obsession of subbing both full-backs during the course of the 90 minutes, playing around with Marouane Fellaini up-front, substituting Marcus Rashford off for Ashley Young, who has only played as a central striker before in pre-season, deciding that it’s actually been a successful season with United still in the hunt for the FA Cup and fighting for fourth place!
Oh, yes, this Dutch manager makes all the right decisions. This one in particular stands out for me, and kick started this treacherous downfall of his.
I promise you what I’m about to describe to you is real life and really did happen. I’m not trying to fool anyone, no matter how mad this sounds.
When Manchester United flew out to Wolfsburg to meet their Champions League fate last December, their season was in the balance. Win, and the Red Devils achieved what was expected of them: to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages. Lose, and devastation would occur with the season falling beneath them like an avalanche. It was incomprehensible to think that, in this qualifying group, United couldn’t even safely progress. Yet, here they were in this position they put themselves in.
So, the teams go out on a cold winter’s night under the floodlights with both teams, in truth, needing a win to advance to the next round of the Champions League. United take the lead, and like all good things, inevitably lose that lead and are 2-1 down with the second-half to play.
The teams are deadlocked in the opening quarter of the second-half; both attacking, both gunning for the goal as they both well know that the next one is the most important. If United can score, it should swing the momentum in their favour, but if they concede, it’s all but over for them.
Here’s my point – the baffling part of this story. The juiciness, if you will. There’s 20 minutes to play plus stoppage time in this must-win encounter. LvG’s lining up two substitutions to take place. Firstly, on comes Michael Carrick for the tired Bastian Schweinsteiger. Fine, more control in the middle of the park could work in United’s favour. But here we go. The climax. The moment we’ve been waiting for.
Juan Mata’s knackered and with Ashley Young and Andreas Pereira on the bench, it’s surely going to be one of these two to salvage something in this game. Surely? But wait, hang on a moment. This is the manager that substituted his goalkeeper in the World Cup Quarter Final for the penalty shootout? He’s a tactician!
The board goes up and Juan Mata’s number is called, and the one adjacent to his is the number 22. I can’t recall Pereira or Young’s number being 22, but with further inspection we see Nick Powell (I’ve typed that name very slowly as I’m still shaking to the core).
Nick Powell, a man who quite literally ‘quit’ football because he was sick and tired of his injuries. A man who hadn’t played a competitive match for a whole year. A man that hasn’t lived up to his glamorous career he was promised to have. A man that’s never cemented his place in the first-team. This was the man to save Manchester United’s season from the abyss – Nick bloody Powell.
And this, my friends, was the point in which I no longer trusted Louis van Gaal. A manager that quite clearly shunned Pereira in favour of a player who had played 4 competitive games in two years. This was the moment that I thought, ‘well, that’s it then – the season’s done and buried’.
And the sad thing is, I was right.
By Liam Canning. You can follow Liam here, @OffsideLiam