ONCE a manager loses the dressing room and with it the respect of his players, then it is only a question of time before his time is up.
Right now, Louis van Gaal, United’s arrogant Dutchman, is close to carrying the title of dead man walking.
He is now under more pressure than at any other time in his career, because unless he can lead the club into the Champions League again next season, the axe will almost certainly fall.
Van Gaal’s mode of management is not appreciated in some corners of the Reds’ dressing room, and his tactics are being talked about, albeit in whispers, that will become louder and more strident the more the club struggles for an identity.
It is inconceivable that an Old Trafford crowd would have to resort to chanting “attack, attack” in a plea for their team to get forward and entertain them.
But although van Gaal believes in possession, ball retention at all costs, his side lacks the kind of quality to encourage supporters to appreciate this style of play.
Coming up soon are the kind of games that will determine what happens to the Dutchman. whose sneering attitude to personal criticism is turning so many against him.
Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea are all on the agenda, and van Gaal must look forward to harvesting points from these vital games.
To finish in the top four is all United can play for now; to fall short would be unacceptable, and quite unthinkable. If it happens, then those men in the boardroom who have shown great patience so far will start to ask more penetrating questions.
After all it wasn’t meant to be like this. United’s board, by putting van Gaal in charge, had almost to a man expected instant results. Instead, the side have gone backwards, garnering points against modest opposition, but failing in the games that mattered.
Failure to return to the Champions League next season would raise doubts whether he is the right man to be given funds for more reinvestment. The players he has bought so far have just not played for him. Would United be ready to hand over another £150 million to a manager whose tactics and team selection have left so many disenchanted?
No Champions League football could also mean that key players may no longer want to stay at the club. David de Gea is one who might be tempted to leave.
And what of Wayne Rooney? Would he accept Europa Cup football when he is accustomed to playing at the very highest level? Van Gaal has used him as a midfield player this season, in a role where he has operated in front of the back four in a holding job.
Only recently has he been moved back up front, and responded with the goals that were so noticeably missing when playing in midfield.
Angel di Maria is also being played out of position and is claimed to be unhappy enough to admit he made a mistake joining United. His total frustration was mirrored by his sending off against Arsenal last week, when the mild mannered Argentinian pulled referee Michael Oliver’s shirt.
Some of the manager’s critics claim there is no longer any enjoyment in watching United play, and that backroom staff offering opinions that conflict with van Gaal’s are feeling marginalised.
One is Ryan Giggs who, it is alleged, has indicated he would like to be manager instead of occupying an assistant’s role. It appears he has not bonded with the Dutchman.
Yes, the bell has started to toll for van Gaal. When he came in to take over from the hapless David Moyes, he was hailed as the man to restore the glory days to Old Trafford.
Now, all he can do is make certain his side hold onto fourth place in the Barclays Premier League, make sure they start winning again, with something of the style that is so important to the fans.
If that doesn’t happen, United have invested too much money for van Gaal to get off lightly. The Dutchman has a job to do, perhaps the most difficult he has ever attempted.
PICTURE COURTESY OF: ING Nederland