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Van Gaal: Too mad for Manchester United?

Uh-oh, this doesn't bode well, does it?

Louis Van Gaal can be borderline bizarre. Photograph: Reuters
Louis Van Gaal can be borderline bizarre. Photograph: Reuters

A week after waiting almost a day to confirm media reports that David Moyes had been released as manager - spending time instead refusing to deny them but stopping short of issuing a statement - Manchester United are at it again. Victimised by leaks.

Dutch newspapers went huge with the news yesterday morning that Louis van Gaal, the former Bayern, Barcelona and Ajax coach and current manager of the Dutch national team, had been appointed as Moyes' successor. United issued a denial yesterday morning.

How a club run their PR is their business. And there is a lot to be said for an institution that stays tightly sealed and refuses to comment on anything. It's a valid approach and it served United extremely well for most of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.

But here we have a something different. The club were already badly stung by the handling of Moyes' removal as a result of leaks: the man from Bearsden found out he was gone via social media and had to seek confirmation from Old Trafford. Now United once again found themselves the victim of a leak.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out Holland's biggest newspaper wouldn't put their credibility on the line without some level of sourcing. If this news comes out - and in such detail - there are two possible sources; the United camp or the Van Gaal camp.

And that means United's blabber-mouth problem - unthinkable under Sir Alex - still exists: somebody who talks too much to the wrong people, without the gravitas to control how and what they report. Or, equally bad, United are bringing on board someone - Van Gaal - whose people are colander-like in their ability to keep information private.

Van Gaal has spent the past few months on a virtual Premier League road show, pitching himself to every club of a certain size that may need a new manager this summer. He's 62 and wants to win the World Cup with Holland, but he also knows this is his last roll of the dice in terms of the big time.

Ruud Gullit went as far as to say Van Gaal had agreed to take over at Spurs. This was ultimately denied by all parties, though Spurs did speak to him just after Andre Villas-Boas went. The English media are particularly high on Van Gaal because they saw him up close: in January he gave a witty, self-deprecating speech to football writers at the Savoy and ever since he's been first-choice for managerial speculation.

There is no denying Van Gaal is - in pure footballing terms - a genius. It's not just about his results, though his historic success at Ajax, his first stint at Barcelona, even some of his work at Bayern, all place him among the greats. Even those who dislike him - and there are plenty - concede he's an exceptional coach on the training ground with a creative tactical vision.

The problem with Van Gaal is his personality: emotional, ebullient, at times borderline bizarre. Former Bayern striker Luca Toni loves to tell the tale of Van Gaal dropping his trousers and showing his testicles to prove he had balls. He's also the guy who read a poem and then broke down in tears upon his return to Ajax as technical director. Throw in the leaks - surely a ­coincidence, but a constant everywhere he's worked - and some spectacular failures (he didn't get Holland to the 2002 World Cup, his second stint at Barcelona ended with the club not far off the relegation zone, year two at Bayern was a bust) and he's not the automatic choice some make him out to be.

And that's without even considering the squabbles that shadow him: from Barcelona to Ajax mark II (he resigned after eight months over "personality clashes") to Bayern where, by the end, many openly loathed him. Van Gaal later said Bayern was destined to end that way because there were huge personalities at the club who had been there for decades and could not handle his presence. (Hmm … anyone like that at Old Trafford?)

If Van Gaal is appointed, Holland will be under a microscope at the World Cup. Simply put, this team - particularly with a patched-up Robin van Persie and without Kevin Strootman - could well be bounced in the group stage by some combination of Spain, Chile and Australia. Imagine the welcome mat then. The idea of Van Gaal as a mentor to Ryan Giggs for three years, followed by the Welshman taking over (as mooted by Eamonn Holmes, Sir Alex's confidante) is a neat one. In theory. Scratch a little and you begin to wonder …

He was a modest footballer who, as assistant coach to Pep Guardiola, built the greatest football team in the game in the past 20 years. But maybe even that is an understatement: Guardiola described him as "his twin", the "other half of his brain". It speaks volumes about the modern game and the way we talk about it that, for a long time, most knew him mainly as the recipient of Jose Mourinho's poke to the eye (and subsequent scamper to safety before he could react).

When he did take over as manager of Barcelona, they won the league with a record points total. And, even as that happened, he was battling throat cancer, the malignant force that took his life on Friday.

You're reading about Tito Vilanova in a football column because football was his livelihood. His passing is a loss to the game. But it's insignificant compared to the loss to people closest to him - his wife and two children, friends and family. Let that serve as a reminder of what truly matters.

The Premier League could be the decided this afternoon. If Chelsea lose at Anfield and Manchester City don't beat Crystal Palace, Liverpool are champions. Without the tragic passing of Vilanova and events at Manchester United, this should have been the dominant story today.

I say "should" because, of course, the main tale on this Sunday would have been someone else: Mourinho. It had to be after the thinly-veiled accusations post-Sunderland (repeated on Friday, just in case anyone did not get the message), the raft of FA charges and the threat of sending out a weakened side today.

The football narrative would have taken a back seat. I don't know if this reflects worse on Mourinho or those of us who write about the game.

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