Van Gaal should stop moaning…and get on with it

Napoleon it was said never appointed a general without asking first “is he lucky?”. On that basis Louis van Gaal would have been a certainty to get a job in his French Army. While it is true he has improved Manchester United’s results he has had luck. Arsenal and Liverpool failed woefully to cash in when van Gaal was having early teething troubles. And even during United’s six-game win streak – which ended at Villa Park on Saturday – the performances have often been better than the results. When you win a game 3-0 and your goalkeeper is man of the match it is a sign that your team is not performing as well as it could do. And he still needs at least two players who can defend. But before January 1st comes and van Gaal can sign defenders he has got the Christmas fixture list to negotiate. And like a lot of foreigners he has been moaning about it. United – and all Premier League clubs – play on Boxing Day, December 28th (apart from Liverpool v Swansea which is on the 29th), New Years Day and then the FA Cup 3rd round which is on January 3rd/4th/5th. The foreigners complain about this but their complaints are quite pathetic. Are they really saying highly paid elite players can’t play four games in eight days? Earlier this year there were two women’s international tournaments – the Cyprus Cup and the Algarve Cup. Twenty four women’s international teams played in these events and they all played games on March 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th this year. There were no complaints and they all managed perfectly well. Yet according to sexists women are physically weaker than men. And last season Braintree Town of the Conference – the fifth tier of English football – had to play 17 games in 46 days because they suffered so many postponements because of the awful weather in the UK last winter. They didn’t complain. In fact they won 8 and drew 4 of those 17 games. Even more impressive considering Braintree are part-time which means the players have jobs in the “real world” as well as playing football. If they can survive that schedule surely elite superstars can play four games over the festive season. Of course another point people who don’t like the festive football programme in the UK make is that other European countries take a break over the holiday period. Well so what? People who argue that are “little Europeans” who think all of Europe should be the same and the world does not exist outside Europe. All the English speaking countries have sport over the festive season. In the US the NBA,NFL, NHL and college sport all carry on. in fact there are five NBA games on Christmas Day. Louis van Gaal would love that!. Cricket Test matches in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand all start on Boxing Day. And back in the UK there are nine horse racing meetings on Boxing Day (weather permitting) and rugby union and the World Darts Championship also carry on so a festive sporting event is by no means unique to football. And playing sport over the holiday period is a case of common sense. After all shouldn’t sport be on when the public are able to watch it, either live or on TV? An example from the 1970s shows what can happen when the link is broken. In November 1973 because of a state of emergency caused by rising oil prices and a miners overtime ban floodlights for sporting events were banned and football matches had to be played in daylight. Gates went through the floor. On December 4th 1973 – a Tuesday afternoon – Arsenal had a crowd of only 13,482 for a match which is hard to imagine now but the reason of course was everybody was at work. In fact the Sunday football we take for granted now had its origin in this crisis. When a three-day work week came in in January 1974 football clubs requested permission – which the FA granted – to play on Sunday afternoons (Saturday counted as a working day for the three-day week). And so January 6th 1974 saw the first Sunday football matches were played in the UK and the gates were much higher than the clubs were used to on Saturdays. It wasn’t rocket science – the public were available to watch so they did. (Sunday football was banned again after the February 1974 General Election and the solution of the miners dispute which had helped to cause the crisis . But the genie was out of the bottle and Sunday football was allowed again from 1981.) So the Europeans who moan about football over the festive period are wrong. And so is Daily Telegraph reader Chris Harding who wrote (December 19th 2014) that “sport is for players not spectators”. At non-elite level he is right but at elite level he is wrong. If no one watched the Premier League either live or on TV van Gaal – and indeed all the big names – would be earning a lot less money.. So van Gaal – and indeed all the other “little Europeans” – should stop moaning and get on with it. After all no one forces them to come to the Premier League. If van Gaal is that keen on a Christmas break he can work somewhere else. He must have known before he came here that we play over the festive season. He chose to come here. He should just get on with it. I would now like to wish everyone reading this Merry Christmas and a happy New Year and I’d like to just mention some lines from the best Christmas song ever written – Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” which I think are apt. “So here it is Merry Christmas everybodys havin’ fun. Look to the future now it’s only just begun”. See you in 2015…

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