Can Louis van Gaal go on? Manchester United now ponder a ‘confirmation’ loss

Louis van Gaal admits Manchester United's loss to Norwich City at Old Trafford was 'remarkable' and a 'confirmation that we are in a bad period'. Andy Mitten asks if it is a period the Dutchman is capable of correcting.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal shown after his team's Premier League loss to Norwich City on Saturday. Jason Cairnduff / Action Images / Reuters / December 19, 2015
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MANCHESTER // "Just tell me one thing," said the anguished Manchester United fan to a fanzine seller on Sir Matt Busby Way before Manchester United had lost for a third successive match, making it six games without victory. "Just tell me he can't go on."

‘He’ was Louis van Gaal, Manchester United’s manager since July 2014, 18 often strained months where the Dutchman has tried to rebuild the side to his precise philosophy. He uses the words ‘philosophy’ and ‘process’ frequently and United fans, stung by the failure of the David Moyes period, gave their first continental manager as much emotional support as he had financial backing in signing the players he desired.

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Van Gaal used the word 'philosophy' again after his side were beaten 2-1 by Norwich City at Old Trafford, their first home defeat of the season. Norwich's first win at Old Trafford since a famous 1989 victory was the latest blow to a United side who've been eliminated from the Champions League and have now slipped out of the Premier League's top four. Support for Van Gaal has declined accordingly. The doubts have been growing throughout 2015 and at the start of December, he read the mood wrong when he said United fans were happy with him and their club. After Saturday's defeat to Norwich, he wore the expression of a man under intense pressure as he discussed topics that hadn't been raised only a month ago.

Had he lost the belief of his own players? Was he the right man to help bring confidence back to a losing side? Was he worried about his own job, especially with Jose Mourinho now a free agent?

Van Gaal’s first response was to touch on the lack of confidence.

“What you’ve seen today is what a lack of confidence can do,” he said. “It was not good enough. Our first defeat at Old Trafford. It was remarkable and confirmation that we are in a bad period. We have to come out of that period. That is difficult because otherwise we would have done it today.”

United had scored 13 without reply in their last four games against Norwich, but only 13 goals have been seen at Old Trafford in the eight league games this season – the lowest of any top flight ground. It’s the lack of attacking football, of goals and the hours of deadly dull football which has turned fans off. Their judgement is often at odds with their manager’s satisfaction.

Van Gaal is aware of the magnitude of this defeat.

“You have to win against Norwich,” he said. “You have to win every home match. We did it this season to now. The problem is how we manage to come out of this bad period. That can be done when you are sticking together. Not only the manager and the staff and also the fans. That is important.”

The fans were supportive – J Stand even managed a few ‘Louis van Gaal’s red and white army’ chants – but most have had enough. They want change.

“Every word I say about the defeat is one word too much,” admitted Van Gaal.

So how does he get the confidence back if he stays in the job?

“To show your professional attitude,” he said with no little conviction. “That’s the only way you get that back. We have to evaluate what we have done today and how we prepared that match. Tomorrow we will evaluate what we have done to make it better against Stoke City. Then we have to play within two days against Chelsea.”

Asked about his own position, Van Gaal said:

“Of course I’m worried about that because I know belief in a manager is very important. When you lose the games the belief in the manager should decrease. That is happening now. I cannot close my eyes to that.

“I am always evaluating myself also. It’s an aspect of the same philosophy that I had. I’m not the same coach as 25 years ago. I am – or maybe I say now ‘was’ – a very successful manager.”

Van Gaal doesn’t think he should be replaced.

“I don’t think a change of management should bring direct success,” he said. “But that is what I believe.”

He’s unlikely to decide his future. Three weeks ago, United were sure in their conviction that Van Gaal was the right man to lead the club forward, but now there is a new reality. He presides over a team which can’t win matches. It can’t go on. Can he?

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