Louis van Gaal is facing the sack at Manchester United if the club lose to Stoke City or Chelsea during the festive fixture period.
With United suffering a third successive defeat against Norwich City at Old Trafford on Saturday, Van Gaal is under mounting pressure, with the club hierarchy aware of growing discontent within the playing squad and increasing frustrations among the supporters, a minority of whom chanted the name of Jose Mourinho during the 2-1 loss to Alex Neil’s team.
Despite Van Gaal claiming after the Norwich defeat that he retains the backing of his players, the Independent is aware of senior figures within the dressing room who have grown tired of the Dutchman’s approach, both in terms of tactics and a perceived obsession with critical post-match analysis in “evaluation” sessions overseen by performance analyst, Max Reckers.
While United’s owners, the Glazer family, and executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, had retained faith in Van Gaal, who arrived as successor to the sacked David Moyes in July 2014, the club’s Champions League elimination earlier this month, quickly followed by Premier League defeats against promoted clubs Bournemouth and Norwich, have left the 64-year-old fighting to save his job. It is understood that a further defeat at either Stoke on Boxing Day or against Chelsea at Old Trafford next Monday will signal the end for the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach at the midway stage of his three-year contract as United manager.
Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment as Bayern Munich manager, announced at the same time as confirmation of Pep Guardiola’s departure from the Allianz Arena at the end of this season, has left United without their favoured replacement for Van Gaal.
But Mourinho’s dismissal as Chelsea manager last week and Guardiola’s availability, despite strong indications that the Spaniard will move to Manchester City next summer, have given the Glazers two proven options to pursue as long-term successors should Van Gaal be sacked.
Mourinho, who attended Brighton’s Championship fixture against Middlesbrough on Saturday, has made it clear that he intends to make a swift return to management, with the Portuguese known to be attracted by the prospect of managing United. Although Sir Bobby Charlton criticised Mourinho’s abrasive managerial style in 2012, his reservations would not prevent the club from pursuing Mourinho should a change be made. Ryan Giggs, Van Gaal’s assistant, would also be considered as a successor and the 42-year-old could take charge of the first-team on an interim basis in the event of Van Gaal leaving his post.
United’s defeat against Norwich meant the club dropped to fifth in the league, nine points adrift of the leaders Leicester City. The defender Phil Jones claims that the players, rather than Van Gaal, must take the blame for the team’s recent slump. “We have to take responsibility,” Jones said. “There’s no other way. We need to stick together and us, as players, need to take responsibility. Listen, the players in the dressing room aren’t hiding behind anyone. We know full well we have to take responsibility. The lads are absolutely fully focused on performing well for the manager, the fans and ourselves week in, week out.”
Meanwhile, the Bayern Munich chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, thanked Guardiola for his work and confirmed a deal for Ancelotti. “We are thankful to Guardiola for all he gave our club and hope to celebrate more success in the current season,” Rummenigge said. “I am convinced that Pep and the team will work harder to reach the big sporting aims of the club, especially now that it is clear that Pep will leave.
“Carlo Ancelotti has enjoyed success as a coach everywhere and has won the Champions League three times,” Rummenigge added.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies