B/R Gossip Roundup: Does Van Gaal Make Sense for Man Utd, What Now for Moyes?
Another week, another series of twists and turns in the veritable soap opera that is world football.
For the first time in nearly 27 years, Manchester United sacked a manager, a move that has understandably created more than its share of speculation and insight this week. Was it time for David Moyes to go, and what will be next for the Scot? Will Louis van Gaal be a suitable replacement?
Elsewhere, summer transfer business at Europe's biggest clubs is becoming an increasingly hot topic, with potential targets setting out their stall and managers beginning to draw up shortlists.
Here, we take a look at some of the key stories from the week and offer our assessment.
David Moyes Will Soon Be Managing Again in Premier League
David Moyes must have felt like the loneliest man in the world on Sunday as he took up an unfamiliar seat at Goodison Park in the opposition dugout.
Two hours later, the seat reserved for the Manchester United manager would be vacated on a permanent basis, as Mark Ogden of the Daily Telegraph reported.
Moyes' managerial career had been on an upward curve ever since he took over at Preston North End in 1998. It reached its pinnacle when he was appointed to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford after 11 years of continually raising the bar at Everton.
The Merseyside club had been perennial strugglers before Moyes got a hold of things, and he took them to annual finishes in the top half of the table.
However, after 11 years, the lure of Sir Alex Ferguson's call to replace him proved too much for the Scot to ignore. But it did mean going against the old adage that the job you want is the one after the man who follows the legend.
And that was the biggest mistake Moyes made in all of his involvement with the Old Trafford club; accepting the challenge of replacing Ferguson instead of waiting for another to step directly into the shoes of the United legend.
From the outset, #moyesout began trending across social media platforms, as Yahoo.com reported, and the stream of amusing Twitter and Facebook entries soon became a deluge as United failed to perform under Moyes.
It was never going to be an easy task, particularly with Moyes inheriting a squad which had been a shadow of the teams Ferguson had previously put together, despite winning the Premier League last season.
Indeed, things got so bad at United at times that we were watching some events from between the cracks in our fingers, notably the cringe-worthy plane flying above Old Trafford with a banner trailing it calling for "Moyes out."
Moyes is a good manager, and the opportunity to manage one of the world's biggest clubs was, understandably, too big to turn down for an ambitious man. But it would be foolish to believe that the former Everton and Manchester United manager is now saddled with a shroud of failure.
Moyes should steer clear of the game for a while, and the closing weeks of the season will offer him a chance to do that. He will not be without his suitors in the coming months with managerial casualties commonplace at the end of any season.
The Scot represents a solid base for any club looking to steady themselves and exceed expectations. His time will come again, but replacing a legendary figure will not be high on his agenda.
Believability Meter: High
James Dickenson of the Daily Express noted swiftly after the sacking of Moyes that he was being linked with several top-flight positions.
What Moyes achieved at Everton without the financial clout of other clubs did not go unnoticed across boardrooms.
Don't be surprised to see him back in the opposition dugout at Goodison and Old Trafford once more next season.
Manchester United Role Will Be Win-Win for Louis Van Gaal and Glazers
Even before somebody had logged into the Manchester United Twitter feed to announce the departure of David Moyes, Neil Custis of The Sun (subscription required) was pinning the responsibility for the team's future on Louis van Gaal.
Indeed, Custis went as far as to say that the Holland head coach "wants" the job before Moyes' reign was ended by the Old Trafford hierarchy.
The article quoted a source close to Van Gaal as saying: "Louis would love the United job if it becomes available. Manchester United is his No. 1 choice.”
Well, there's no harm in hedging your bets, is there? Van Gaal has already announced that he will be stepping down from his current role with Dutch national team after the World Cup final in Brazil, and he has already made the Premier League his target.
In relation to a possible link with Tottenham Hotspur, Jack Gaughan of the Daily Mail reported the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager as saying in March:
My ambition is to coach a top team in the Premier League. I have never experienced the atmosphere in England.
I want to win the league title in a fourth country. That’s my objective and I want to fulfil it. Either that, or I will retire and move with my wife to Portugal.
Of course, I like the Bundesliga a lot, but I have already won the German title. I now want to win a major trophy in another country.
With Borussia Dortmund's Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola swiftly distancing themselves from the Old Trafford vacancy, a pathway to United appeared to have opened up for the Dutchman. For United, it is a move that would make sense as club owners, the Glazer family, seek the steady hand and experience to prevent further deterioration of form.
His credentials as a leading European coach are impressive. Since winning the Champions League with Ajax in 1995, the 62-year-old has gone on to claim two La Liga titles with Barcelona and the German double with Bayern Munich in 2010.
Van Gaal succeeded the disappointing reign of Jurgen Klinsmann at the Allianz Arena, and with the help of new signing Arjen Robben, he had won the Bundesliga and German Cup. That already has the sound of familiarity, doesn't it?
With the Glazers also having one eye on the finances of United, the fact that Van Gaal will be a free agent in the summer will not have gone unnoticed either. Even before stepping through the door, Van Gaal will be feted as a hero by United fans after the disappointment of the Moyes era, while United striker Robin van Persie will welcome an ally to the club.
Most importantly for Van Gaal, he really couldn't do much worse than Moyes did, meaning any improvement in form will be seen as down to his tactical awareness and man-management.
He really can't lose. But neither can United.
Believability Meter: High
The appointment of Van Gaal will be an open goal for both Manchester United and the Dutchman.
Saving on possible compensation for taking another club's coach will not come into the equation, while the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern boss has more than enough medals and honours to silence any dissent from doubters.
But if Van Gaal does arrive at Old Trafford, some United players and journalists should be warned that the ride could get rough, as Martin Lipton of the Daily Mirror noted in a profile this week.
This could get interesting.
Forget Others, Jose Mourinho Must Be Loyal to Chelsea Alone
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho will never be far from the headlines on any given week, and the past seven days have provided plenty of stories surrounding the Portuguese coach.
After his weekend "congratulations" toward match official Mike Dean and referees' chief Mike Riley following the Premier League defeat at home to Sunderland, as Jim White of the Sunday Telegraph reported, the Stamford Bridge boss found himself at the centre of another storm in Wednesday's newspapers.
The 0-0 draw at Atletico Madrid cost Mourinho the services of defender John Terry and goalkeeper Petr Cech for several weeks, and the Blues will now face two season-defining matches without the experienced pair.
On Sunday, Liverpool will be the opposition in the Premier League at Anfield, while Atletico arrive in West London for the second leg on Wednesday night.
However, Mourinho admitted Tuesday's match at the Vicente Calderon Stadium that he might be forced into a second-string starting XI on Merseyside with his focus on the Champions League, as Daniel Taylor of The Guardian reported.
When asked how the injuries would affect his selection for the Liverpool game, Mourinho is quoted as saying:
I can't decide by myself. I have to listen to the club. I'm just the manager and I have to listen to the club.
The fact that the match is on Sunday, I think that puts the problem not in my hands but in the hands of those who decide the game should be Sunday, not Saturday or Friday. We represent English football and are the only [English] team in European competition.
Spain have four and give them all the conditions to try to have success. So I know what I would do.
I would play the players who are not going to play on Wednesday. My priority is the Champions League. But I'm not the club. I have to speak to them.
Cue the howls of indignation from those outside of Stamford Bridge.
Social media comments will have ranged from the "Hope Chelsea get well beaten" variety to the "Mourinho ruins football and the Premier League title chase" types.
But the following day, Ben Rumsby and Matt Law of the Daily Telegraph reported that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich would back Mourinho's decision to field a weakened team, and they noted how Premier League rules now permitted wholesale changes.
Manchester City supporters might not take too kindly to the news, but the Chelsea selection process is not in their hands. And as Bleacher Report's Etihad Stadium writer Rob Pollard highlights, City fans should have no concerns over the proposed threat as Mourinho has more than enough quality squad players to mount a significant challenge to the Reds.
That's why Premier League clubs have 25-man squads and why there are excellent youngsters waiting in the wings. But the most significant factor in all this is that Mourinho is loyal to Chelsea, and Chelsea alone. He has not wavered from that here and is unlikely to.
Believability Meter: High
By placing the blame for any potential defeat in the hands of the Premier League, Mourinho has already released his team from further pressure heading into the last-four tie and the Anfield game.
It is classic Mourinho and deserves a wry smile rather than vilification.
We will know on Sunday whether the Chelsea boss has made good on his threat of a weakened XI at Anfield, but the bottom line remains, as always; it is his choice and his alone to make.
Danny Welbeck Link to Everton Should Not Be Lightly Dismissed
Our immediate inclination on reading of the transfer link between Danny Welbeck and Everton was dismissive.
Paul Joyce of the Daily Express reported the transfer speculation concerning the Manchester United striker and the Goodison Park club on Wednesday. The fair assumption was that, following the sacking of Old Trafford boss David Moyes, the England international would be looking to prove himself under his new manager in the summer.
Prior to Moyes' dismissal this week, reports had emerged that Welbeck was looking for a route out of Old Trafford after becoming disillusioned with life at United, as Jamie Jackson of The Guardian reported.
As Jackson notes, the relationship between Moyes and Welbeck had not appeared to have been the most amiable, with the forward failing to make a significant impact on the first team under the ex-Everton manager, with injury also playing a part in hampering his campaign.
The Guardian story also underlined the discipline action taken against Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young for having a night out after the Champions League exit to Bayern Munich. However, as a lifelong fan of the club, Welbeck's reported unhappiness was viewed as a genuine sign that things were not as harmonious as they could be under Moyes.
The future, though, seems as uncertain as ever for Welbeck now. With Robin van Persie due to return from injury in the near future and Wayne Rooney a first-team stalwart this season, the England international is waiting on a chance to prove himself again.
However, the Manchester United board are set to sanction a major overhaul of the squad for next season, with the new manager holding £150 million in preparation for transfers, according to Paul Hetherington of the Daily Star Sunday in February.
Reports on the exact figure available vary in other newspaper reports, but no high-profile manager is likely to accept a top role without the promise of a significant transfer kitty.
Then, of course, we should also consider the situation at Everton.
Goodison Park manager Roberto Martinez will, undoubtedly, be hoping that he can land Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea on a permanent deal in the summer. But the Stamford Bridge club will not allow the Belgium international to leave cheaply, and a good World Cup could see the forward's price tag rise accordingly.
Welbeck would a sensible Plan B if a permanent deal for Lukaku cannot be agreed upon.
Believability Meter: Medium
There are still too many ifs and buts to establish the full truth behind this story.
Manchester United will have a new manager in the summer, and his view of Welbeck will be a deciding factor, while Everton are likely to continue the chase for Lukaku.
Welbeck, though, has plenty of Premier League and European experience to offer the Toffees if the pieces slot together in a different way in the summer.
Lukas Podolski Still Has Too Much to Offer Arsenal to Consider Cologne Return
The future of Lukas Podolski at Arsenal came under some scrutiny this week, with Mark Irwin of The Sun (subscription required) reporting that the striker was hinting at a return to Cologne in Friday's paper.
The Germany international joined the Gunners in the summer of 2012 in an £11 million deal, as the Daily Mail reported at the time, but the forward has failed to make a significant impact on the first team.
Poland-born Podolski arrived in North London on the back of a season which saw Cologne relegated from the Bundesliga amid scenes of chaos, as the Daily Mail noted at the time. But his time with the Gunners has seen him complete just four Premier League matches, while the substitutes' bench has been his natural habitat this season.
And the 28-year-old voiced his frustration in The Sun article, while also expressing his admiration for Cologne, who returned to the German top flight this year.
Podolski is quoted as saying: "Of course I’m frustrated with this situation. You’re not a footballer if you’re happy to always be taken off after 60 or 70 minutes and watch from the sidelines."
And he added:
It (the Bundesliga) is one of the best leagues in the world. Cologne are much more than a club for me—they are my home.
Maybe I’ll play again with them. For me, this is a matter of the heart.
I would also like to meet my Arsenal contract but you never know in football.
Admittedly, injury robbed Podolski from Arsene Wenger's plans for the opening period of the current Premier League season, but it was only the long-term loss of Theo Walcott which prised open the first-team door for the player nicknamed "Poldi."
Podolski has provided an impressive return in terms of goals scored, though, with 12 league strikes to his name, including four in the last two matches.
It remains somewhat of a mystery why Wenger has not utilised Podolski where necessary, particularly with the Gunners boss being questioned about his team's title chances after failing to add a striker to his squad in January, as Bleacher Report's Arsenal writer James McNicholas suggested as the window closed.
It is arguable that Podolski represents a greater threat on goal than current first-choice forward Olivier Giroud, despite a question mark over his seemingly lackadaisical outlook through some matches.
There is little doubt that Podolski will return to Cologne one day, but Arsenal would be foolish to let that happen this summer.
Believability Meter: Medium
Podolski is obviously frustrated at his lack of first-team chances with Arsenal, and his words were borne of that feeling.
The 28-year-old also clearly has a close affinity with Cologne, bearing a tattoo on his arm in tribute to the club (The Sun) and attending the 3-1 win over Bochum, which clinched promotion on Monday (Daily Mail).
But an emotional return to Cologne would not be in the best interests of either the club or the player at the moment. Unless Wenger has something spectacular up his sleeve for his forward line next season, the German forward should bide his time. He has too much to offer the Gunners just yet.
Mario Balotelli Wrong to Believe Returning to England Will Solve Everything
Moving to AC Milan—the club he supported as a boy—was supposed to be the defining moment of Mario Balotelli's career, the point where he finally found a settled environment where he was appreciated and felt comfortable and started producing the best football of his career.
Unfortunately for both him and the club, it has not quite worked out like that. That is not entirely the player's fault—his move has coincided with an all-round decline in the standards and quality at the club—but he has certainly not exhibited a new-found maturity on the pitch either.
Matters seemed to come to a head on Friday, as Balotelli got in a heated argument with journalists following Milan's poor defeat to Roma. After being questioned about his workrate on the pitch, Balotelli responded angrily, via the Express' Ben Jefferson:
You don't understand anything about football. Trust me, you really don't.
It isn't nice? I don't care. I don't care.
I never said I'm a top player. I am a perfectly normal player, it will take time to become world class, but the reasons why I am not a top player are not the same reasons you think.
Every game is different. If I didn't get near the goal once tonight, then there has to be a reason.
You always talk about me. When Milan win Mario's great, when Milan lose it's all Mario's fault. You expect me to score five goals a game. I don't need your criticism, I make my own criticism.
With the comments being dissected far and wide in Italy, Balotelli subsequently took to Twitter, saying: "Mamma mia, I divide Italy in two! Amazing! While almost everyone overseas is united with me! What a strange game."
But would Arsene Wenger really want to take a risk on a player with the reputation of Balotelli? Would he really feel confident in being able to control him, especially with the temptations of London to contend with?
Believability Meter: Low
Moving back to the Premier League will not instantly help Balotelli find his top form, just as returning to Italy has not worked out like that. First he needs to find more peace off the pitch, a calm that might help his performances on it.
If he can demonstrate that, perhaps he can lift AC Milan back to their former standing and attract big clubs suddenly less perturbed by his perceived character issues. Still only 23, there are few strikers out there with as much potential as the Italian.
AS Monaco Destined to Be Disappointed If They Think They Can Lure Arsene Wenger
Saturday's newspapers contained a smattering of stories about Arsene Wenger's future at Arsenal, many with conflicting messages.
The Frenchman, as no Arsenal fan needs reminding, has yet to officially sign an extension to his current contract at the Emirates Stadium, which expires in the summer. After leaks about an impending announcement at the turn of the year, there has been a conspicuous silence on the matter in the weeks and months since, culminating in some reports that French side AS Monaco are ready to offer Wenger a huge deal to replace Claudio Ranieri.
Wenger managed the principality club for seven years from 1987, and the club—backed by billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev—seemingly believe they can arrange a return if they wave enough money at the tactician.
The Times' Rory Smith (subscription required) reported:
The French club, bankrolled by Dmitri Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire, are expected to part company with Claudio Ranieri, despite a probable second-place finish in their first campaign back in Ligue 1, and have made Wenger their first choice on a list of potential replacements.
Rybolovlev is thought to be willing to commit to paying Wenger as much as £13 million a season to tempt him back to the principality where he forged his reputation as a manager almost three decades ago. That would place him in the same elite bracket as Pep Guardiola, of Bayern Munich, who is thought to be the most lavishly rewarded coach in the game. His annual salary runs to £14.8 million a year.
Wenger's proposed extension at Arsenal has been widely quoted as being £8 million per annum, with the disparity potentially creating the possibility he could jump ship. Yet, exactly one day before, Wenger had been insisting he would remain in North London.
Speaking to talkSPORT (h/t The Guardian), Wenger said, "Look, I have said that many times already, I have given my word to this club and that I want to continue where I am … that means to stay."
Believability Meter: Very low
Trying to lure Wenger with the lavish spending of money is surely like trying to get Pep Guardiola on board by suggesting you want the team to play a long ball game.
There was only the slightest possibility that Wenger would leave the Gunners this year (if they finished outside the top four in the league, and the fans demanded change), but since that now looks unlikely to happen, he will stay put.