Another weekend, and another weekend of the purest guff. It is quite hard to describe how useless Manchester United is, but only because the depth of the team’s woefulness has already been stated. Repeatedly. There is, admittedly, an infinite combination of all the thousands of words in the English language, and many of those combinations could be deployed to describe how utterly rubbish at football they are. But the problem is that Manchester United is infinitely awful. With each game they find a new way to be awful, while dredging up all the ways in which they have also recently been awful. They are operating with a checklist of cack, and ticking off the boxes with every match, and then drawing another box at the bottom, and annotating it with a new disaster. Then they check that, and the player checking it goes down with a thigh strain.
Against Bournemouth, they managed to pick up some more injuries. Jesse Lingard was unable to last a half, and Paddy McNair’s cramp with a few minutes to go felt like a deliberately sarcastic gesture. McNair played terribly, so they were no worse without him, but introducing the presence of Phil Jones felt like gilding the lily. But that is how much of United’s incompetence has felt of late. They’ve already lost, and then they do something stupid. A player picks up the lily, gilds it beautifully, then sneezes from the pollen and goes down with a thigh strain.
The injuries are many, but there is just one Louis van Gaal. Which is lucky for United because, if there were two, things would be even more hilariously awful. In fact… this might be at the heart of the problem. Maybe there are two Van Gaals: the one who was meant to be appointed, and the one Manchester United ended up with.
The Van Gaal that we were told was appointed was a steely, combative leader with excellent tactical knowledge and, as he had shown at Barcelona, Ajax and Bayern Munich, he could operate in different countries. With the Netherlands, he’d reacted to the injury to Kevin Strootman by rejigging his side into various formations across qualifying and the tournament, and he managed to get a disparate group of always-moody Dutchmen into third place of the 2014 World Cup.
It seems, however, that some other Dutch bloke has turned up in his place. He has the same idiosyncratic manner as the guy from the first season, but this season, things are different. He’s complained, in public, that Bastian Schweinsteiger has somehow aged in the last five years. He’s had a pop at the adorable Ander Herrera. He’s even managed to make the loveliest man in the world, Juan Mata, lose his temper. The only situation we could have ever conceived that would drive Mata to this state of fury would be the re-introduction of entrance fees to museums. It turns out that we hadn’t considered Van Gaal would substitute him for Nick Powell.
Against Wolfsburg, Mata was the best player. Against Bournemouth, Marouane Fellaini was the best player. Terrible at finishing his chances, yes, but still the best. The one who might have been able to salvage a draw, maybe a victory, with his unusually effective ploy of falling over in the direction of the ball, and hoping it would somehow roll into the net. It worked in the first half, and even if it wasn’t going to work again, it was still the most entertaining aspect of United’s play over the last five games. We don’t know how infuriated Fellaini was, but but we also don’t know his opinion on free entry to museums.
But all this won’t be quite as entertaining as next week against Norwich City, when Van Gaal decides to start Powell and Wayne Rooney ahead of both Fellaini and Mata.
That is when it when it will all become too much. Van Gaal said recently that he will only leave if he feels he has lost the dressing room, not understanding, by choice or ignorance, that it has already happened. Instead, he will have goaded the whole side into revolution. At that point, Mata and Fellaini will form an uneasy alliance. David and Goliath will realize that it’s actually God who’s been acting the dickhead all along, and it’s time they set about bringing his time to a close.
Mata and Fellaini will set about tearing strips off Van Gaal, with criticism at first, until it gives way to a violent, physical attack. The rest of the side will be inspired to join in, and only after several minutes of retribution will Van Gaal accept that he has lost the dressing room, only to find them again, putting the boot in. He will resign, and the players will cheer. It will only be then that they realise they have all strained a thigh muscle in the process.
(NB: It isn’t actually xenophobic to describe the Dutch as moody. For one, it’s true, they always are. For two, you can’t be xenophobic against the Netherlands because the Netherlands isn’t even a proper country. Look it up on a map. Exactly. It’s just a flood plain).