Manchester United's sense of pride suffering under Louis van Gaal
They are big on dignity at Old Trafford. Manchester United like to project it. This club has real status as one of the game's most venerable institutions. Now they are in chaos. Louis van Gaal brings many things to the table. Dignity is not one of them.
When Sir Alex Ferguson retired unexpectedly three years ago, United made it clear that Jose Mourinho would not replace him. The Portuguese craved the job but the distinct impression was that club insiders at Old Trafford thought him vulgar and troublesome. David Moyes became the "chosen one".
There is still some resistance to Mourinho inside United but the objections can have little to do with a pompous sense of probity. On and off the pitch, the Van Gaal era has been underwhelming. United no longer look like one of the game's superpowers.
The Dutch manager came to England with a reputation for being formidable, eccentric and a tough disciplinarian. His methods have not produced the attacking teams of United's self-image. Off the pitch, he sometimes acts like a parody of a manager.
After the Chelsea match at Stamford Bridge, the press conference descended into farce. Van Gaal has the air of a grumpy, disrespected uncle mired in the certainties of another age. His jokes whizz over people's heads and where Ferguson's confrontational mood caused people to shrink away, the Dutchman's bombast causes sniggers.
This is not the United way.
A question about United's performance proving the manager's worth at a time the club are thinking of replacing him turned confrontational, with Van Gaal asking whether his inquisitor had spoken to Ed Woodward and the Glazers about his future. Then, to the bemusement of all in the room, the manager turned the scenario round. "Now I have to say that you are getting the sack tomorrow," he told the reporter, adding: "What is your name? Then I can announce your name also."
When managers engage in baiting their questioners, it is usually a sign that the pressure is getting to them -- Nigel Pearson at Leicester City with the "ostrich" incident last season and Mourinho when asked about "third-season syndrome" this season are good examples. The end is invariably near.
Van Gaal raged about the referee blowing the whistle at halftime and fulltime when United were counter-attacking. A relatively docile question followed about "Fergie time" -- when United supposedly profited from referees playing lengthy periods of stoppage time. Had this turned around completely to the club's disadvantage?
Initially, it looked like Van Gaal would shrug it off. "OK, write what you like," he said, rising from his chair to return to the dressing-room. Then he stopped. "Maybe you remember also the first years of Fergie?" he said in a tone that suggested the reporter was clueless. It provoked a flippant reply: "I was too young. I'll get my dad to tell me."
The manager's response was surprising. In the tone of a condescending professor, he said: "Then you have to study, study statistics."
Incidents like this add to the air of turmoil around United.
Van Gaal's observations about the team's performance were equally worrying. He claimed that for the third game in a row, United were "sparkling." It was true that the team had a more attacking look than during most of the Dutchman's tenure but the commitment to drive forward left gaps behind. Better teams than Chelsea will exploit the space United leave. Their timidity in the final few minutes allowed the home side to attack with impunity.
In short, the sparkle was superficial and had worn off before the final whistle.
It feels like Van Gaal is struggling to maintain control. If the team were successful and challenging for trophies, it would not matter so much. As fourth place and a Champions League spot disappear into the distance and Mourinho deliberately increases the pressure with his very public job hunt, the air of crisis grows more palpable.
With every day that passes, United's sense of pride is eroded. Three years on from Ferguson, the realisation is increasingly dawning that dignity is less important than winning. Van Gaal looks like a man on borrowed time. There may be more indignities to come unless the club acts quickly.
Manchester City embarrass themselves
Manchester City were so wide open against Leicester that it was embarrassing. Manuel Pellegrini's lame-duck tenure as manager clearly does not help, but the players need to do more to lift the team before the title is out of their reach.
In particular, this is the time for Yaya Toure to step up. If he wants to be remembered fondly in Manchester and the Premier League -- he has suggested this will be his last season at the club -- he needs to perform in the final third of the season. Many of City's problems could be solved if Toure gets anywhere near back to his best.
Turmoil at Anfield
Fenway Sports Group were shocked at the depth of reaction to the proposed hike in Anfield ticket prices to £77 for next season. How could that happen? Surely they have trusted lieutenants on Merseyside who can convey the mood of supporters back to Boston?
Apparently not. Ian Ayre, the chief executive and "lifelong Liverpool fan", seems to have misjudged the situation. Now the Kop is in revolt while the team stumbles along mid-table.
Pity Jurgen Klopp. He has walked into a club where there is a lack of direction on and off the pitch. Liverpool need strong leadership and the only person that seems to provide it is the manager. It is just not good enough.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC and is former football editor of The Times. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.