“Isn’t it marvellous?” would begin another of his exasperated observations upon some dismal aspect of his character’s disappointing life. As I kicked my heels around about 4pm yesterday, during what should have been half-time in United’s climactic league match, I heard his voice.
“Isn’t it marvellous” that even this final tiny masochistic pleasure should’ve been taken away from us - namely 90 sweaty minutes of fretfully watching United labour towards victory whilst desperately listening out for City’s progress, hoping for a miracle. And how typical of this wretched, tedious and ultimately massively anti-climactic league season, that it should end, not with a bang, but a whimper.
Mind you, given the potentially serious cause of yesterday’s postponement, in the end one was rather grateful for the lack of bang. The black humour hadn’t taken long to kick in: “Suspect package prevents football? The suspect package in the dugout does that every week.”
Several expressed the wish that the supposed ‘bombers’ had stopped this team from appearing more often.
The temptation to leave the above quippery as testament enough for the ‘season review’ element of today’s column is great. What can I tell you that you haven’t heard, seen or moaned about enough already? Never mind the possible secondary bauble of the FA Cup, very much desired though it may be. For Van Gaal’s régime, this season has represented a significant step backwards, and straight into a cow pat to boot.
“The league table doesn’t lie,” runs the old cliché — although in this case, I’d be tempted to argue the point. We felt we were so much worse than the stats appear to indicate at first glance, which to posterity will read as a wafer-thin missing out on Champions League football. I’d steer future historians’ eyes towards the ‘goals scored’ column: we’re on 46. That’s fewer both in total and per-game than when United were relegated, even though that was a time when defences ruled the roost.
Old Trafford has also seen fewer league goals in its matches than any other Premier League venue. Indeed, the stadium has become a byword for boredom, the ‘Theatre of Dreams Experience’ a national joke. Recently, you literally could not give O.T. tickets away — and that was before the latest ill-advised ‘free bomb for one lucky ticket holder’ offer.
Van Gaal’s serial failures are too many to list, running the whole gamut from his transfer market activity via his coaching and motivational methods to his selectoral and tactical decision-making.
Even his press conferences have become exemplars of how not to create unity and fighting spirit, his flawed English neatly matching his flawed reasoning, all wrapped up inside the most unjustified bombast and flavoured with sour ad hominem attacks.
Well, we can do ad hominem too, Louis. This column has been calling for the useless has-been’s departure since Christmas, with polls suggesting somewhere between 75% and 90% of Reds agree. Whether we are to be granted our wish remains to be seen, although yesterday’s Manchester City result must surely swing the odds in the axeman’s favour. There will be nothing but full-throated fervent support for the Red cause at Wembley, of course. But let no man mistake what those voices will be singing themselves hoarse for — although Louis will no doubt try to claim otherwise, as he has often done before now.
Let’s end with neither a bang nor whimper, but the fizz of a fuse that’s been lit. One bright spot will illuminate the season in the memory banks —the emergence of Martial and ‘the kids’, all now celebrated as our very own ‘young, black and proud’ — and Red. They make us think fondly of the future — all the better to forget the recent past...”