“Mourinho has even criticised John Terry, despite never having had played at the level of Robbie Savage. Surely the sack beckons?”
Who’s for Santa’s Sack this Christmas?
It has been a tough few weeks for some high profile managers at underachieving clubs. Messrs Van Gaal, Mourinho, Monk, Hasi and Delia have all either had calls for their heads or, in Monk’s unfortunate case, have been decapitated.
I’m not convinced about the reasons or legitimacy of sacking Ronny Delia at Celtic. His objective is surely to win the SPL comfortably. The inexorable procession towards this has begun as Celtic build up a lead that already looks unassailable. For Scottish clubs, European Football has become a bonus. It is an almost annual event to lament their performances before the first snottery nose of Autumn has been blown. Given that the clubs receive a tray of pies and a slab of watery beer for the rights to show their games, it’s not that surprising.
The others are less clear cut. With every passing game, Mourinho looks increasingly pained. His title-winning squad haven’t become poor overnight and no real first-team players have departed. Yet, they are exactly where they deserve to be in the league. When and why did it start to go wrong?
It can’t be a coincidence that Hazard (not scored all season), Costa, Oscar, Fabregas, Matic, Terry and Ivanovic have all been rotten since Mourinho threw his hissy fit at the club Doctor for helping an injured player. He looks a lonely, forlorn and isolated figure on the touchline nowadays. Add, for me, therein lies the problem. Mourinho has ‘lost the dressing room’ and the unwavering player support he once had. He created a siege mentality and the players responded to that. He protects and defends them publicly, taking the criticism himself or blaming the referee. It was the world against Chelsea/Porto/Inter/Real Madrid. That is (was) the Mourinho method.
However, he has run out of excuses. The players and club staff have been publicly lambasted at different times by Mourinho, he has behaved in a ludicrous fashion and it appears a critical mass of his staff have swung against him. Mourinho has even criticised John Terry, despite never having had played at the level of Robbie Savage. Surely the sack beckons?
So who do you get in? Someone who will work with the players there, be liked and get the best out of them. Someone who can’t be trusted with a large transfer budget but has an excellent track record as a coach. Someone who has been at the club before but has not been sacked by them. Brendan Rodgers would get that team fighting and believing again. I’d be amazed if José can.
Moving north to the Philosopher of the Pennines, the Locke of Lancashire, the Sage of the Stretford End; my pal Van Gaal. What is left to say about him that hasn’t been said. He can’t seem to fathom that Schweinsteiger was sold by Bayern because he can no longer cut it. In a previous article, I referred to him as ‘An Amiga in a World of iPads‘. He is no longer the same Schweinsteiger that Van Gaal had at Bayern. It seems everybody knew this except from Van Gaal.
His team looks confused, scared and without leadership. If you try to win ugly, to be efficient if not pretty, then you need to win. That’s the bottom line. However, when you overhaul the playing squad at great expense, progress is to be expected. The much vaunted ‘philosophy’ seems to be understood by precious few people. The team look slow, without dynamism and solidity has come at the expense of creativity. The squad is strong. They could be title contenders but they don’t look like they believe it or believe in themselves and almost seem to win games by accident. They have sold Welbeck, Hernandez, Van Persie, declined Falcao and loaned Wilson. Some of those decisions were clearly necessary. However, who has replaced them? Only the talented, but hardly prolific, Martial.
He has made some strange tactical choices but that is part of his Modus Operandi. Over the years he has specialised in either playing unusual formations or selecting players in unfamiliar positions and claiming credit for their performances if it works (World Cup 2014 v Spain for example). However, Manchester United at the moment are not a well mixed cocktail but more a mucky puddle of everything in the drinks cabinet flung in a glass: if it works then it is more by chance than by design.
That said, the club have been very quiet and supportive and they are only six points away from Leicester. The Champions League exit, while hardly a massive surprise to anyone familiar with football beyond the inward-looking goldfish bowl of the Premier League, should act as a wake up call for the club. The suggestion that the club would rather let him see out his contract than try to lure Guardiola must be a disappointment to the fans. Should the club sack him? Quite probably, the team are barely better than the Moyes XI. There is a ready-made replacement at the club in Ryan Giggs, who will surely be the next Manchester United manager provided he remains patient.
Van Gaal’s story has many parallels across the Channel at Anderlecht. Besnik Hasi – a man whose pint you really wouldn’t want to spill – doesn’t come with a reputation like Van Gaal. Nor does he have any overt ‘philosophy’. However, when a manager does have a vision, it is important that he shares it with the players and they can see it too. There is little evidence of that at Anderlecht. There is an awful lot of huffing and puffing but the house hasn’t been blown down. However, unlike the Big Bad Wolf, Hasi may be ‘buiten’ (sorry, Dutch for ‘out’).
The team were rudderless and completely lacking in creativity and direction against a superior Oostende. The 1-1 draw itself was not the major bone of contention; it was that the team were second best in every area and were completely outplayed. Individually, Hasi has easily the most talented squad in Belgium. However, a lot of these talented players are cooking their own soup and eating it themselves. Were Hasi to look west at Gent, he’d see a squad of players who know exactly what their coach wants them to do and they have clearly bought into the vision. Gent have become the benchmark in Belgium. Last year they swiped the title in the second half of the season due to Club Brugge and Anderlecht managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when it really counted. This year though, Gent are the best team in the league by some distance and they have a very shrewd coach.
Anderlecht do have a fantastic youth setup and there are a lot of talented players on the periphery who could step up to the plate e.g. Lukebakio and Kawaya to support those out of form like Tielemans or Praet. These players need to be given more than 5 minutes at the end of a match. While the unexpected bonus of a fit-looking Mati Suarez was an undoubted positive, the performance was grim. If you’re going to be ugly, you have to be effective. Anderlecht are, at the moment, only the former. Perhaps, given his previous flirtations with novel tactics, Hasi might want to consider a 3-5-2/5-3-2 style formation given the that the full backs are fast but can’t really defend and the wingers/wide midfielders look desperately like fish out of water. That way, he could play most of his best players, retain Suarez and Okaka, and give the strong but positionally negligent Kara and Deschacht an extra body.
While Anderlecht are underachieving, they have qualified for the next round of the Europa League from a tough group. However, they are struggling domestically against teams they should be beating comfortably and performances have been scrappy and turgid. Players like Tielemans and Praet are playing well below their potential and the fans are fed up. Hasi needs to do something different to get the public back on side but I’m not convinced he is capable. Do I want to see him get the sack? No. Does he deserve to get the sack? Not yet. Will Anderlecht need to sack him to have any chance at becoming champions? Unfortunately, yes.