Newspaper article International New York Times

Van Gaal Smiles, but United Is Still Anxious

Newspaper article International New York Times

Van Gaal Smiles, but United Is Still Anxious

Article excerpt

After one of the worst weeks of his career, Manchester's Dutch coach came out smiling, but a two tough assignments await United.

When a coach as experienced and as successful as Louis van Gaal keeps having to listen to speculation that he is about to be fired, it is bound to get under his skin.

And when that coach hears -- too often for it to be mere rumor -- that his former protege, Jose Mourinho, is waiting to replace him as Manchester United manager, is it any wonder that Mr. van Gaal seldom seems to be enjoying his work?

After one of the worst weeks of his career, the 64-year-old van Gaal came out smiling on Monday. In fact, he was smiling so much before, during and after United's 3-0 win in the F.A. Cup at Shrewsbury Town that it began to look as if he has been taking drama lessons.

Nothing much else had changed. After Manchester's shocking loss to the Danish club Midtjylland last Thursday in the Europa League, van Gaal had spoken of Murphy's Law because injuries to 13 players had decimated his lineup.

On Monday, a lineup similar to last Thursday's swept away an even less imposing opponent. Shrewsbury was too compliant, too overawed to run at United in the way that the so-called little teams so often do in the cups. The Shrews chased United for 75 percent of the game, and goals by Chris Smalling, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard mildly reflected the supremacy of a Premier League team over one 60 places beneath it in the English pecking order.

That is to be expected. United is one of just three soccer clubs in the world -- along with Real Madrid and Barcelona -- valued at more than $3 billion. Shrewsbury's stadium has one-eighth the capacity of United's 76,000, and there is a similar gap between the players they can sign and the salaries they can offer.

But behind the smiles, there is anxiety for United. The injuries have not gone away, and United has to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Midtjylland at Old Trafford on Thursday. Then on Sunday is a Premier League match at home against Arsenal.

Should United lose either of those, the pressures on van Gaal will return. Sympathy is in short supply, in part because the Dutchman is never slow to hide his self-esteem. It may be justified by the fact that he has, in a 30-year managerial career, won 15 major trophies, including a Champions League title with Ajax and league titles in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.

He had the biggest and best rosters in those leagues, with Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

But if Manchester United were a car, the manufacturer might wish to throw a tarp over the engine to hide its corrosion. Chevrolet pays Manchester United $70 million a year to have its golden emblem on the front of the jersey. Adidas pays even more than that to associate itself with United.

They expect so much more, as do the fans. …

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