Why Manchester United should stick with Van Gaal


Over the past few months, many Manchester United fans wanted Van Gaal out and their reasons were simple. The team was out of the Champions League and struggled in the League failing to record a single victory in the whole of December. Yet I don’t think that changing the manager will help much and here’s why:

Nonetheless, when a club changes managers, results usually improve. Sue Bridgewater of Warwick Business School analysed sackings in the premier league from 1992 to 2008 and found: “There is a boost for a short honeymoon period.” It’s easy to explain why. A typical club earns on average 1.3 points a match. Usually, a club sacks its manager when it’s averaging only one point a match – that is, at a low point in the cycle. Any statistician can predict what should happen after a low point: whether or not the club sacks its manager, or changes its brand of teacakes, its performance will probably regress to the mean. Simply put, from a low point you are always likely to improve. The club may have hit that low point owing to bad luck, or injuries, or a tough run of fixtures or – as perhaps in City’s case – the time it takes for a largely new team to gel. Whatever the reason for hitting a low, things will almost inevitably improve afterwards. The new manager rarely causes the pendulum to swing. He’s just the beneficiary of the swing. Eventually results regress to the mean. Prof Bridgewater found that three months after a sacking, the typical club was averaging the standard 1.3 points a game. Sheikh Mansour, City’s billionaire owner, should have just stuck with Hughes and waited for results to rebound, but in business doing nothing is often the hardest thing. Historians used to believe in the “Great Man Theory of History”. The idea was that great men – Genghis Khan or Napoleon – caused historical change. Historians binned the notion long ago, and now even business magazines have, but it’s sweet to see that the theory has an afterlife in football.-Financial Times January 15, 2010 Simon Kuper

From this we can gather that while there is a brief honeymoon period, changing the manager likely wouldn’t help us that much. While obviously this past December United were underachieving, van Gaal still has averaged a total of 1.77 points per game in his 58 matches, well above the 1.3 outlined above. The only managers currently in the Premier League with a higher rating are Wenger with 1.99 points per game and Pellegrini with 2.14.

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Perhaps the best way to predict where United will finish is the total amount of our wages. According to the book Soccernomics, a book that is the closest equivalent of Moneyball for football, the best way to predict how a team will finish is the wages it spends:

The market in players’ saleries, as we have seen, is so efficient that it explains about 90 percent of the variation in the clubs’ league positions in the long run. Typically the club with the best-paid players finishes at the top, and the one with the worst-paid finishes in the cellar.- Soccernomics

Simply put, the higher your wage bill, the more likely you are to finish higher in the table according to both Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, the authors of Soccernomics. If we were to get the most recently available wage bill on record for Premier League teams, which is from 2013/2014, we can see immediately that United have the highest wage bill. Below is a table showing each team and their respective wage bill from that time period:

Team Wage (in millions)
Manchester United 215
Manchester City 205
Chelsea 192.7
Arsenal 166.4
Liverpool 144
Tottenham 100.4
Newcastle United 78.3
Sunderland 69.5
Aston Villa 69.3
Everton 69.3
West Brom 65.4
West Ham 63.9
Swansea City 62.3
Stoke City 60.6
Southampton 55.2
Crystal Palace 45.7
Leicester City 36.3
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While some of this is outdated, as Leicester has no doubt risen, we can still use this data to help with analyzing our performance this season. What we can see is that Man United spends the most with 215 million spent in 2013/14 suggesting we should compete finish top 4. Unfortunately, its not as simple as that. Arsenal and Man City both have managers who consistently overachieve the 1.3 point per game threshold for most managers. In addition, in recent years, many clubs have increased their wage bills, creating a more competitive environment. Finishing on top also has an element of luck. Therefore, I would argue that Louis van Gaal has arguably performed exactly where he is expected to perform, in the top 4 range, only 2 points off fourth. United have underperformed in December, but I have no doubt that it is only a matter of time till they regress to the mean, which under LVG, has been averaging much more than the 2 points they got in December. United fans are all spoiled from their time under Sir Alex Ferguson, who historically was one of the most over-performing managers in the Premier League, averaging 2.16 points per game, so therefore it has come to a shock to us all when United suddenly drop off a bit. A better solution in my opinion to sacking the manager is to continue to increase United’s wage bill by purchasing high quality players to supplement the loss of SAF and increase the likelihood that they finish top 4.


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