The strange case of Louis Van Gaal. It has beyond doubt been a disastrous season for a manager still revered as recently as the 2014 World Cup when he guided a Dutch team which put five goals past Spain and beat Brazil easily in the third-placed play off.
As he himself has pointed out to us, he had great success with Ajax, Barcelona and after a difficult start at Bayern Munich. Yet his transfer policy at Old Trafford has gone badly wrong, his cautious tactics have alienated United fans.
In a rational world United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward would long since have abandoned what seems to be blind faith in Van Gaal, leaving Ryan Giggs in charge at least until the end of the season. Ideally, a probationary period in which he could show he is the man for the permanent job.
Couldn’t United have signed Charlie Austin? Or would he have seemed too much of a bargain?
Meanwhile, United’s transfer policy has been a costly disaster. Occasional flashes of form, of swift opportunism by Wayne Rooney have barely been enough. Nor has Van Gaal worked out how best to deploy him. Time and again the gifted Spaniard, David De Gea’s goalkeeping has averted disaster. But against Southampton, even he looked ordinary.
Speaking of the remarkable Charlie Austin, he hit the ground running on his debut for Southampton, promptly heading the winning goal at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
Remarking afterwards with some justified resentment: “I don’t know whether I was credited enough for what I did at QPR. I just let people do the talking.”
Which included talk about his alleged vulnerable fitness. Certainly there was no sign at the weekend that his various injuries had blunted his edge as a prolific spearhead.
There was some comment about the fact hat Rangers had sold him to Southampton for a “mere” £4 million, when other attackers with far less prolific scoring records had changed hands for infinitely more. QPR’s problem was presumably that when Austin’s contract runs out in the summer, he would have been able to leave on a free transfer.
His is a notable story of a once seemingly rejected and sidelined player emerging as a major star. Born in Hungerford, still only 26, he was plucked out of non-league football by Swindon, when playing for Poole Town. Thence to Burnley, and to QPR who are going to miss him dreadfully.
Is it too late for him to play for England? It might make sense for Roy Hodgson to take him to France as an “impact” player, coming on late as he did at Old Trafford to score crucial goals.