LONDON — The fans’ booing has become louder at Manchester United as the team’s performances have become duller.
Through it all, the club’s hierarchy has remained silent about the setbacks, supporters’ discontent and increasingly embattled manager Louis van Gaal.
It’s taken an Old Trafford voice from the trophy-filled recent past to speak out in response to supporters’ concerns. Not Alex Ferguson, but the chief executive who worked alongside the manager who delivered 38 trophies in 26 years.
David Gill, who remains a United director under the shaky leadership of vice chairman Ed Woodward, issued a plea on Sunday: "It’s not easy … it’s a difficult process but we have to stick together."
Gill’s pronouncement on BBC radio followed a 1-0 home loss to Southampton — the 11th consecutive game in which United failed to score in the first half of a home game.
It left United fifth in a league the club has won a record 20 times, the last occasion being Ferguson’s 2012-13 swan song. With United five points from the Champions League places, the club will fear being unable to bank tens of millions of pounds from the UEFA competition next season.
"We have to work together and work hard," Gill said. "No one is going to help us turn it around. We have to turn it around ourselves. Everyone is motivated to do that."
Such a downward spiral would not have been anticipated going into the season, given that more than $350 million has been spent on new players since Van Gaal took charge in 2014.
"Clearly we all hoped the results would be better and everyone is disappointed with that … undoubtedly it’s been a season of under-achievement," said Gill, who is a FIFA vice-president. "Everyone would agree with that given the investment that’s been made."
It may prove telling that Van Gaal did not even receive the dreaded "vote of confidence" from Gill a day after being heckled by fans while leaving the pitch.
"I don’t think he’s found it that difficult but the sheer competitiveness of English football is there for everyone to see," Gill said of Van Gaal, who has previously coached the Netherlands, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
With the football so dour and lacking dynamism, there’s an air of inevitability that the Dutchman won’t have a third season at United.
"We’re fans as well as directors and we don’t want booing, we want cheering," Gill said.
"Manchester United going back to the 1950s played in a certain way," he added. "We want attacking football and I am sure that will be a key part going forward."
Van Gaal was more forgiving of the fans’ reaction: "They are right (to boo). I cannot deny that. But also for better or for worse, you have to stick together."