In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was on the hot seat. United were struggling and had gone over a month without a win and fans were getting restless. Once Chelsea fired Jose Mourinho, van Gaal’s seat got even hotter as many people believed United would part ways with their manager and bring in ‘The Special One.’ Things got so bad that van Gaal even said in his press conferences that he was very close to resigning from the position himself.
It was widely reported that prior to the festive period, van Gaal was told by the United board that he would need at least two wins against the likes of Stoke, Chelsea, and Swansea to save his job. United then lost to Stoke, drew against Chelsea, and narrowly defeated Swansea, yet there is no longer any chatter about van Gaal losing his job. Why not?
United’s match against Stoke was predictably van Gaal’s United. Stoke came out attacking and blitzed United with two quick goals. United tried to get back into it, but with their slow labored build up play, they never really looked threatening. Following the loss, the calls for van Gaal’s head among the United faithful were as loud as they had ever been.
With just two days between the Stoke match and the clash with Chelsea, it didn’t make sense to make a managerial change at that point. However, it seemed that unless United could defeat 16th place Chelsea, van Gaal would be out the door.
As with too many other matches Manchester United have played this season, their match with Chelsea ended in a 0-0 draw. The difference was for the first time since playing QPR in September of 2014 United looked full of pace and attacking flair, creating several chances that they just couldn’t cash in on. The match looked very un-Louis van Gaal, almost as if van Gaal had given up and just told the players to go play, or that the players had just finally tuned the manager out.
The draw seemed to give van Gaal a one match lifeline. His lifeline ended up being a 2-1 win over Swansea thanks to a moment of absolute brilliance from Wayne Rooney. For some reason now, no one is talking about van Gaal being shown the exit door. This doesn’t make any sense.
If van Gaal was in fact given an edict of you must win two matches he failed. He won just one match and it came against Swansea, a team that is free-falling down the table and still hasn’t hired a full time manager. If you ask a Manchester United fan, they won’t even be sure if they should be happy about the Swansea win because this was the exact situation they were hoping to avoid.
The best time for a club to make a mid-season managerial switch is when you have an international break coming up and the new manager would have a few weeks to settle in at his new club before they have a match. Since there are no international breaks until March, the next best time to make the switch would have been right now.
Had United moved in a direction other than van Gaal following their match on Saturday, the new manager would have taken over with a full week before United’s next match, which is against Championship side Sheffield United in the FA Cup. The new manager would have had a nice match against lower level opposition to get his feet wet, and still a week and a half before his first league match.
Instead, the rumors have not just quieted down but have gone away completely. United may have looked like an attacking side in their last two matches but van Gaal’s history suggests it won’t stay that way for long. That doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
The truth is van Gaal has very likely saved his job until at least the end of the season. December was a very rough month for United, a month where they failed to win even a single game. The calls for van Gaal hit their loudest points last month and van Gaal managed to survive through it. Now, with a match home against a Championship side coming up, United could very well win their second in a row. Another win will keep the doubters quiet, and make things appear better then they actually are at Old Trafford.
If things appear well for the red half of Manchester, it’s unlikely their manager will go after surviving the time period where things were definitely not going well.