“One night, I went to a bar, I was with a woman. We talked all night. We laughed, we flirted, I paid for several drinks of hers. At around 5am, a guy came in, grabbed her by the arm and took her to the bathroom. He made love to her and she left with him. That doesn’t matter, because I had most of the possession on that night.” Jorge Sampaoli
This was Jorge Sampaoli’s insightful assessment of possession football after witnessing his Chile side lose 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier, despite retaining 73% possession. It also serves as a striking parable for Louis Van Gaal’s current predicament. Every other week his Manchester United team goes out and makes tentative contact with the ball, some rare flirtations in the opposition box, before their opponents crash the party, hit the back of the net and leave with the spoils. These poor performances then leave fans, and presumably players and management, in a state of frustrated anxiousness about where it all went wrong. Size obviously isn’t a problem for the self-styled Biggest Club In The World, with the biggest players on the biggest wages still on United’s radar. The problem is technique. And as much as one can admire LVG’s style of passing game, his up-front and honest media dealings and often hilarious press conferences, and his past successes, one has to recognise that the writing is surely on the wall. Unless there is a remarkable turnaround in the next few weeks and United go on to win the FA Cup and qualify for the Champions’ League, Van Gaal will not be in charge at Old Trafford next season.
Much has been said in the media about who will replace LVG when the time comes. The most conspicuous candidates include Mourinho, Giggs, Simeone and of course Guardiola, with murmurings of long-shots such as Pochettino and Neville. Anyone can look at the prospective candidates’ CVs and draw their own conclusion as to who would be the most suitable man for the job. Each will have his own strengths and weaknesses, style of play and management, and experience of the game that one can examine to determine who they think will have the best chance of success. Nonetheless, it is much easier and more fun to just make unsubstantiated judgements on their personal character and decide whether you like them or not. Which is why Giggs should never get the job.
But before casting aspersions on the most decorated player in the history of the English game, the golden-boy and darling of the Old Trafford faithful, we should examine the competition. Jose Mourinho is suddenly behaving like the dude in Sampaoli’s story who shags the girl, as he attempts to steal possession of LVGs job with an unsolicited (allegedly) love-letter to the Man United board. The now well-known contents of this document must raise more than a few eye-brows, not for the ideas put forward in relation to how he would turn things around at Old Trafford, but for the implication that he now realises his behaviour at his previous clubs is preventing him from working where he most wants to work. It would seem that he has learned, whether he has changed remains to be seen, but if the Special One can rediscover his organisational touch, tactical nous and inspiring persona, he must be high up on any list of replacements for Louis.
There are other managers being touted in the various media outlets but it is more difficult to see any of them fitting in to the position at this point. Pep, while undoubtedly attracted to the lure that the Theatre of Dreams can emit, has seemingly struck a gentleman’s agreement with the Man City owners, and Pep, if anything, remains a gentleman. As for Simeone, his high intensity high pressure game-plan has brought much success in Spain and the Champions; League, where there is a slightly more sedate style of football. However, as Jurgen Klopp has discovered, transferring that pressing-style to the Premier League has complications, and requires time that the next United manager simply won’t have.
If Woodword (who should be the one sacked by the way, but that’s another article) were to go for someone outside this triumvirate he should look just above him in the table at Mauricio Pochettino. United have been pilfering Spurs of their best players for some time now so why not their impressive young manager? He has moulded Spurs into genuine title contenders, has great experience of the English game, and to use an old cliché, has a hunger to win trophies. He is well spoken, confident and charismatic, and he inspires loyalty and commitment from his players while encouraging attractive attacking football based on a solid whole-team defence. What’s not to like?
In fact the dream ticket for United could be a Pochettino/manager and Gary Neville/director of football partnership. With Neville’s football experience and obvious business nous (see Football Hotel outside Old Trafford and all the other money he makes for the Class of ’92 brand), coupled with his Old Trafford legend status, make him an excellent candidate to take charge of the buying and selling of players, while Poch looks after winning trophies with the team. Unfortunately, a Pochettino/Neville partnership would leave little else for poor Ed Woodword to do, so that scenario will be avoided at all costs. Possession is nine-tenths of the law after all, and as long as the money keeps rolling in Mr. Business Executive will continue to pull the strings.
Which bring us to the last realistic candidate, the heir apparent, Giggs. To be fair to Giggsy the following assessment is based mostly but not solely on matters totally unrelated to football. In footballing terms he had an audition about two years ago when Moyes was sacked, a very brief and ultimately meaningless audition it has to be said but a chance to show something nonetheless. He had two wins, one draw and one loss in four games. Pretty unremarkable. When one player was asked what Giggs brought to training once Moyes had departed he replied, in earnest, that “he brought chips back to the canteen” which boosted morale. Not exactly inspiring is it? Giggs didn’t really show us much in terms of a distinct style of play, or any tactical astuteness and maybe he just needs time. However if he is to be judged for behaviour off the field then he fails in certain respects.
He abandoned Moyes in his hour of need, never really giving unqualified backing to his manager, and allegedly drip-feeding inside information to his buddies in the media, a huge no-no in the Fergie era. He shows his disloyal side again recently with Van Gaal, again leaving his boss looking like a fool with and empty chair beside him when it seemed he was close to the sack. And speaking of getting close to the sack, what really makes me queasy when I hear Giggs speak, is the knowledge that the shagged his own brothers wife for eight years behind his back! The guy in Sampaoli’s tale who comes in and takes your woman to bed after you’ve invested all the time and possession is bad enough; but imagine if that guy was your own brother!
Giggs could have had his pick of literally thousands and thousands of women, and the fact he chose his brother’s wife, and not just for a mistaken fumble but an eight year affair, just doesn’t sit right with me.
“He denied it … but Natasha showed me texts, pictures Ryan had sent of himself. Messages that I sent on to him…He told me ‘it meant nothing, it was just sex’. He’d demolished my family over sex. Well done, cheers bro” Rhodri Giggs
It seems that opposition defences weren’t the only thing that Giggs was tearing apart over the years. Would he somehow manage to do the same at Old Trafford if given the job?
The case against Giggs may be hugely unfair, but football, as in life, is unfair, opinions abound, and this is just one. If Van Gaal gets the chop then Mourinho has the experience, the ability and after his humiliation at Chelsea he has the desire to prove himself once again. The biggest ego and the Biggest Club In The World; could this be the start of something special?