After embarrassing Champions League exit, van Gaal should be sacked
Giggs must take charge to spare further humiliation
(Naldo 13, 84, Vieirinha 29)
MAN UNITED 2
(Anthony Martial 10, Josuha Guilavogui 82-og)
Louis van Gaal has left himself with no alternative.
Manchester United's sinking lifeboat can no longer bear the weight of his ego.
If the Dutchman slips away now, Ryan Giggs can still steer the club towards calmer waters.
Even in a caretaker capacity, the eager apprentice will do less damage than his muddled master.
United have moved beyond reasonable doubt. There really isn't a Dutch wizard in the dugout after all.
Wolfsburg pulled back the curtain yesterday morning (Singapore time) to reveal a 64-year-old man frantically pulling the levers of a broken machine in the desperate hope that something, anything, might work.
United didn't reach the knockout stages of the Champions League, failing where David Moyes had succeeded, but that historical quirk barely hints at van Gaal's mismanagement.
The ongoing flirting with the top four was always a smokescreen. The English Premier League's inconsistency has flattered to deceive all season long. It was never an accurate barometer of United's progress.
Wolfsburg offered a true test for van Gaal's dressing room and his overpriced, defective purchases failed in calamitous fashion.
The Dutchman's poor signings, his dreadful selections and substitutions and that exasperating "philosophy" conspired to produce the worst 90 minutes of his United career.
After spending more than £250 million ($530m), the Dutchman ended his Champions League campaign with 18-year-old Cameron Borthwick-Jackson at left back, the forgotten Guillermo Varela at right back, Nick Powell in central midfield - a long-term absentee who last featured in the infamous 4-0 defeat by MK Dons more than a year ago - and the injured Chris Smalling up front.
From global franchise to gullible fools, the Red Devils are accelerating towards irrelevance. Moyes began the downfall, but no one expected van Gaal to increase the momentum.
In pre-season, he believed Bastian Schweinsteiger was the ageing gunslinger still capable of taking down one more town.
But the £14m signing has clearly fired his last shot. For the second time in the calendar year, Wolfsburg confirmed that the gun chamber was empty.
In January, the 31-year-old trudged off the Volkswagen Arena in a Bayern Munich jersey after a rare 4-1 hammering. When he was finally spared further humiliation yesterday, coming off in the 69th minute, the outcome was the same.
His weary body had revolted.
Yesterday, Julian Draxler took Schweinsteiger to school, spinning him more times than a kid playing blind man's buff for Wolfsburg's second goal.
Van Gaal had addressed Schweinsteiger's season-long struggles by pairing him with Marouane Fellaini, who has amply demonstrated that if there is one role to which he's unsuited, it's an anchoring role alongside a slow partner.
As a serious partnership, Fellaini and Schweinsteiger are just behind Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Draxler, Josuha Guilavogui and Vieirinha out wide had a field day against men playing musical statues.
United's only hope, a silver lining that threatened to out-dazzle Draxler, was Juan Mata finally getting the position he had long coveted. Playing in the hole, he found others between Dante and Naldo.
His threaded pass to Anthony Martial for the opener was a sublime promise of gifts to come, but he was later taken off. A 21-year-old Powell, who hadn't played for more than a year, took his place.
Sometimes the eye sees what the mind compels it to see, but there was a moment when Giggs' face appeared to betray him. Wide-eyed, his mouth agape, the assistant coach couldn't quite believe what was happening either.
In United's most pivotal game of the season, a rusty kid from Crewe was being called upon to save the European expedition.
In that moment, the mask fell away. There was no philosophy and no master plan, no tactical template beyond the grasp of lesser mortals. There was nothing.
Van Gaal was winging it. He was making it up as he went along.
He has been all season. There are no cards up his sleeve or rabbits under the hat. Like a magician from a bygone era, his act is too easy to read now.
The Premier League had already proved that an inability to score goals was a pressing issue. The Champions League confirmed that United can't keep them out either against quicker sides.
And just about every side are quicker than the Dutchman's ditherers.
United's predictable narrative runs on narrow tracks. There is no happy ending unless a plot twist comes at Christmas and Giggs takes charge.
Van Gaal must fall on his sword.
If he doesn't, and his insatiable ego makes his resignation highly unlikely, then supporters should prepare for a lean Christmas.
It's going to get much worse at Old Trafford before it gets any better.
"United just look like an average team really and, with an average team, you get average performances."
— Former Man United midfielder Paul Scholes, who believes the Red Devils are in a crisis
"It’s embarrassing. I was in a squad that went into the Europa League and it’s an embarrassment. united should be mentioned in the same breath as pSg, Bayern munich, Barcelona and Real madrid. you’re used to seeing that, but at the moment they’re a long way short."
— Former Man United defender Rio Ferdinand