Louis van Gaal must go if Manchester United hope to get back on track
Louis Van Gaal has been a hugely successful coach. But "has been" may be the key words in that sentence.
His reign at Manchester United has been a betrayal of the club's tradition for vibrant attacking football. Too often his United have worn a tactical straitjacket which does not fit.
It is not so much the results -- though they have been bad enough -- but the lack of flair and excitement. Van Gaal speaks of a "philosophy", but all the fans see too often is possession without pace or purpose.
The European campaign has been embarrassing. Failure to qualify from a soft group in the Champions League was a humiliating blow for the three times champs, but to then be turfed out of the Europa League by bitter rivals Liverpool will hurt even more.
That draw gave Van Gaal the chance to rescue his credit rating with the fans and restore morale. Instead, defeat leaves him even more in debt.
United also face an uphill battle to make the top four and secure Champions League football next season, an absolute must for a club of their standing.
Van Gaal has spent around £250 million on players and apart from Anthony Martial, almost none of his buys could yet be called a success.
The biggest condemnation of his sterile approach was to take a star like Angel Di Maria and reduce him to a non-entity in United red. Every time Di Maria steps on the pitch for Paris Saint-Germain, you wonder how Van Gaal failed to get a tune out of such a talented menacing player.
But that's how it has been.
You get the impression that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and the other suits at the Old Trafford helm are desperate for the Dutchman to succeed. After all, they appointed him and his failure is also theirs. Perhaps that's why they have ridden through the storm, hoping for clearer skies.
But it is time to accept that Van Gaal is not a good fit for the club.
The players reportedly do not like his regimented style of management and it shows on the pitch. It might embarrass United to make another change after the failed experiment with David Moyes, but it is the right thing to do.
The methods which Van Gaal used to win trophies at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich are not working in 2016 in a league where pace and power are paramount.
United can still win the FA Cup (but do you really fancy them to beat West Ham under the Upton Park lights?). And finishing in the top 4 is still on the radar if they can beat City in the derby on Sunday (a big if on current evidence).
This is a team which has lost its old aura. Rivals no longer fear the name of Manchester United. Indeed, they rather fancy their chances against a pretty ordinary team weighed down by unfulfilled expectations.
So who could replace Van Gaal? If the club do not fancy the side show which comes with Jose Mourinho, who has been linked with the club, they could look nearer home and give Ryan Giggs a full-time chance. Or go for Mark Hughes, who knows the club traditions and style from his playing days and might be ready for another top job after getting Stoke City to play some sexy football.
Dortmund 's bright young coach Thomas Tuchel is another to consider. His team looked terrific in two games against Tottenham, wiping them out 5-1 on aggregate in the Europa League.
My hunch is that Mourinho's abrasive style might make more appeal than it did before City appointed Pep Guardiola. Someone to ruffle his feathers could fit the bill.
There has to be someone out there who can make Manchester United look something like their old selves. It is now crystal clear that man is not Louis Van Gaal.
Ian Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, is ESPN's lead soccer voice in the U.S. Reach him on Twitter @IanDarke.