Belfast Telegraph

Louise Van Gaal will pay price if top four eludes Manchester United

By Mark Ogden

There are 72 million reasons why Louis van Gaal's fate as Manchester United manager may ultimately have nothing to do with the outcome of tonight's FA Cup quarter-final replay against West Ham United.

Van Gaal can still steer his team into the top four over the final six Premier League games and secure Champions League qualification, but in the real world, that prospect is becoming increasingly unlikely and the trip to Upton Park is one that threatens to end with the curtain falling on United's season.

Whether it will also signal Van Gaal being nudged towards the trap door remains to be seen, but do not be fooled by the noises from within Old Trafford that the Dutchman's work behind the scenes will be enough to keep him in a job.

Ed Woodward, United's executive vice-chairman and the man who appointed Van Gaal as successor to David Moyes two years ago, has afforded his manager backing, but it is those 72 million reasons which will make all the difference.

If United fail to qualify for the Champions League this season, the terms of their £75m-a-year, 10-year kit deal with Adidas ensure that another failure to finish in the top four at the end of the 2016-17 season would see that deal cut by 30 per cent - an annual drop from £75m to £52.5m until they qualify again.

Last season's absence from the Champions League, following the disastrous campaign under Moyes, cost United just short of £50m, so the numbers are stacking up against Van Gaal.

And the problem for the former Barcelona coach is that money talks loudest at Old Trafford and the club's owners, the Glazer family, can't to write off more than £70m because their manager's philosophy might work somewhere down the line.

So Van Gaal's fate rests in him qualifying for the Champions League this season.

Missing out on £50m in prize money next season will be difficult enough, but that figure being topped up as a result of a reduction in the income from Adidas the following year would see the Van Gaal experiment become a very costly one indeed.

Commercially, United are still pretty much able to print their own money, but prolonged failure and the diminishing of their brand will see the Glazers get much less bang for their buck.

Yet it all stems back to the football pitch. A winning team makes it easy to sell shirt space and secure those official tyre partners in Indonesia and soft drinks partners in Nigeria - a team which cannot even qualify for the Champions League becomes less attractive to sponsors.

The Glazers have been silent on Van Gaal's fate, so can only be judged on previous actions.

Moyes was ushered out within 24 hours of United's failure to qualify for the 2014-15 Champions League, while six months earlier, coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik were sacked at Tampa Bay Buccaneers because, in the words of Bryan Glazer, "results have not lived up to our standards".

So it is little wonder that the spectre of Jose Mourinho looms.

If United miss out on the Champions League, they simply have to return to the top four next season and Mourinho offers more guarantees than Van Gaal.

Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah may well have benefited from Van Gaal's trust in youth and United are likely to reap the dividends in the future.

But the only dividends that the Glazers are interested in are financial and, even if Van Gaal can win the FA Cup next month, it will count for little if United once again find themselves with their face pressed up against the Champions League window.

FA Cup Quarter-Final replay: Upton Park, 7.00pm (BBC1), West Ham v Manchester United.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph