The coordinated character assassination of Louis van Gaal

Manchester United won their first trophy since the 2013 retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson on Saturday, edging out Crystal Palace 2-1 in extra time with 10-men to lift the FA Cup. It had been 12 years since Man United last won the FA Cup. Wayne Rooney, a player who has seemingly won everything there is to win with the club, had never won this trophy until now.

This joyous occasion created a bit of a problem, though. Round 9,377 of “Jose Mourinho to Man United confirmed!” reports was already winding its way through the media like the latest updates from the boy who cried wolf as Louis van Gaal was proudly showed off his fourth domestic cup in as many countries. Though Mourinho replacing Van Gaal, who still has a year left on his contract, has seemed like a foregone conclusion for months, the image of Van Gaal celebrating like it was his birthday party while everyone treated it like his funeral is one that Man United and/or Mourinho’s representatives likely didn’t appreciate.

Appearances aside, the FA Cup did little to sweeten an otherwise grueling season in which Man United finished outside of Champions League qualification and with their lowest number of goals scored in the Premier League era (49). But some people care about appearances. And those people apparently felt that something had to be done.

On Sunday morning, a somber Van Gaal emerged from the club’s London hotel and muttered “It’s over” to a reporter. Still, no official announcement was made. Unofficially, a curious coincidence was playing out, though.

Over the course of the day, several major newspapers published insider assaults on Van Gaal’s time at Man United under unflattering headlines like “Louis van Gaal tactics left Man United players close to mutiny,” “The inside story of Louis van Gaal’s dressing room meltdown at Manchester United,” “How Louis van Gaal lost the Manchester United dressing room,” and “Inside the mad world of Louis van Gaal: How the Dutch headmaster put Man United’s attacking instincts in detention.”

The curiously coincidental part is that they all seem to have had the same sources, even though the information was presented as if it was told specifically to them in each piece.

On unwanted emails…

From the Guardian:

One example comes in the form of Van Gaal’s “evaluation sessions” the day after every match when the Dutchman could be so outspoken in his criticisms – “he would crucify players in front of each other”, according to one source – the two most senior players, Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick, went to see him to air their concerns that it was damaging for morale and, in effect, a self-defeating exercise.

Van Gaal, to give him his due, was always willing to listen to complaints and encouraged his players to speak up. But the bad feeling continued. From that point onwards, he started sending the players individual emails detailing their faults and submitting video clips to highlight his dissatisfaction. Except by that stage a lot of the players were so disillusioned many ignored the emails or redirected them straight to their trash. Van Gaal suspected as much and had a tracker fitted so he could check if the emails were opened and for how long. It became a game of cat and mouse. Some players opened the emails on their mobiles, then left their phones on the side and wandered off for 20 minutes.

From the Independent:

But such was the critical nature of the analysis – ‘he would crucify players in front of each other,’ according to one source – that captain Wayne Rooney and vice-captain Michael Carrick sought out Van Gaal to urge the manager to soften his approach in order to avoid breaking the confidence of his players.

Van Gaal accepted the advice and acted upon it by instead sending emails to players with clips and notes attached.

The majority of the players would not open the emails, however, knowing that inside lay a raft of criticisms, prompting a tracker to be attached to reveal when the emails had been opened.

The players have since begun to open the files on their phones, ignoring the contents, but ensuring that the email shows up as having been read.

From the Telegraph:

The willingness of United’s players to go along with Van Gaal’s professorial approach was stretched when he sent them tactical emails which sometimes went unread. Van Gaal, though, could tell when his messages had remained unopened. For months there had been grumbling about the volume of meetings and tide of information and instructions.

From The Sun:

LVG used to gather his players for endless meetings about tactics and formations.

The criticism ended up being so personal and so damaging to the players, a delegation eventually asked LVG to change his ways.

He agreed and asked video analysts to prepare clips to send to the players by email.

The first time Van Gaal sent them to the players he was met with blank looks when he realised none of his players had bothered to open the files.

He then put a tagging system on the emails to notify him when players had downloaded the video clips.

On (Van Gaal signing) Bastian Schweinsteiger…

Guardian:

Schweinsteiger has spent large parts of the season injured and his tendency to return to Germany, flying in and out for United’s matches, has gone down badly, to say the least.

Independent:

Van Gaal is blamed by some players for allowing Schweinsteiger to ‘take the piss’ since his injury, with the former Bayern Munich midfielder’s regular absence from the club in between games becoming a source of annoyance to many.

Telegraph:

Schweinsteiger is thought to have disappointed some at the club with the paucity of his contribution to the team.

Sun:

Senior United players were also furious with injured German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger being allowed to go AWOL during rehab for a knee injury.

On (Van Gaal signing) Memphis Depay…

Guardian:

Depay turned up to face Norwich City’s second string in a Rolls-Royce and did not seem to care when it was pointed out to him that it might reflect badly on him.

Independent:

The Dutch winger was dropped to the reserves after making a mistake in the draw with Chelsea in February, but then surprised many at the club by turning up at the second string game in a Rolls-Royce.

Despite being urged to leave the car at home by senior team-mate, who warned of the negative message it would send to supporters by projecting such an ostentatious image of wealth while the team were struggling, Depay nonetheless continued to drive the same car into training.

Telegraph:

The Dutch winger was dropped to the reserves after making a mistake in the draw with Chelsea in February, but then surprised many at the club by turning up at the second string game in a Rolls-Royce.

Despite being urged to leave the car at home by senior team-mate, who warned of the negative message it would send to supporters by projecting such an ostentatious image of wealth while the team were struggling, Depay nonetheless continued to drive the same car into training.

Sun:

Last Thursday, when he realised he would not be in the final squad, he threw his boots against the wall of the dressing room.

Although he later travelled to London on a later train with other non-playing members, his days at United are numbered.

He also ignored the dressing room when he was advised not to turn up to an Under-21 game in his Rolls-Royce.

On boiled eggs…

Guardian:

Over time, the players started ignoring the rule [not to shoot first time from balls coming across the penalty area], complaining that they should be allowed to think for themselves (though the story of one player asking United’s chef to hard-boil him a couple of eggs to take home, on the basis he did not know how to do it himself, suggests that maybe some members of the squad do need coddling).

Independent:

And while Rashford is regarded as a huge positive of Van Gaal’s spell in charge, with the 18-year-old viewed as a grounded character and a ‘good kid,’ the story of one player asking the club chef to cook him two hard-boiled eggs to take home as he did not know how to boil them himself underlines the sense within the squad that too much is now done for the younger element of the team.

Telegraph:

One of his signings is said to have been sent home from the training ground with two boiled eggs, such was his naivety in the kitchen.

Sun:

In lighter moments, there was also widespread amusement when Matteo Darmian admitted he did not know how to boil eggs.

As the Italian full-back left training one day, he asked the club’s chef to hard boil two eggs for him because he thought he might be hungry when he got home.

On Mr. Wonderful Ryan Giggs…

Guardian:

It has also become apparent that a lot of players wanted Ryan Giggs to take over on the basis that he has a better understanding of the club than Mourinho, as well as being less likely to fall out with everyone a couple of years down the line, and it will be intriguing to see whether the Welshman remains at Old Trafford or decides to break free now he has been overlooked for the role that Ferguson, among others, wanted him to inherit.

Independent:

If Van Gaal’s departure is followed by that of Ryan Giggs, there will be sadness at the loss of the Welshman, however, who has the backing of many senior players to become the club’s manager.

Giggs has impressed the squad with his coaching and his tactical analysis of opponents – the specific job he has been assigned by Van Gaal.

Sun:

But despite Mourinho’s glittering CV, the dressing room want assistant manager Ryan Giggs to get the job.

Three of the four pieces referred to Van Gaal’s system as “rigid” and all four claimed that he was both overly controlling and yet still had no control of the dressing room. Clearly the source(s) for these near identical pieces had an agenda to disseminate and the fact that they slathered it across the press all on the same day makes it clear that they wanted this damning perspective known before Van Gaal gets the sack to limit the criticism of a club once known for its stability as they are now on the verge of sacking a second manager in a three-year span.

But, if anything, all this shows is that the answer to the rigid and demanding Van Gaal, who nearly drove Man United players to mutiny, almost certainly isn’t the rigid and demanding Jose Mourinho, who nearly drove Real Madrid and Chelsea players to mutiny.

Though Van Gaal almost certainly has to go whether he won the FA Cup or not, this serves as a reminder that the media is often used as a willing puppet for unnamed, self-serving gossips. And that Matteo Darmian really needs to learn how to boil an egg.

4 comments

    • Brooks Peck says:

      Because being an adult and asking someone to boil an egg for you to take home is a quick way to get that other person to laugh at you behind your back.

  1. Sandie Jalilu says:

    Not being a fan of Van Gaal I still finding myself wondering of JM wasn’t orchestrating the leaks from the dressing room, lol!

  2. IzzGO says:

    Sounds like Ryan Giggs done this, lol.

    By the way, for anyone who thinks MU wasn’t an English enough Football Club, how much English can you get than hating on the first German signing of your club? Haha

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