Alan Hubbard

You could understand it if both Louis van Gaal and Lord Sebastian Coe called their respective newsagents and demanded: "Please cancel my papers indefinitely". 

For the past weeks have made deeply upleansant and disquieting reading for the under-siege manager of Manchester United and the equally embattled President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

The media knives are out, the red tops plunging their daggers into Van Gaal as United continue to falter and the heavies (save for the Telegraph, for whom he writes) twisting theirs in the stabbing cuts they have inflicted on Coe. The Daily Mail, consistent as always in their vendettas, remain intent on fatally wounding both.

It has not taken the British press long to wallow in their all-too-familiar guise as circulation-driven vigilantes.

Inevitably it looks as if Van Gaal will suffer a similar bloody fate to Jose Mourinho, another darling of the media upon whom they quickly turned sour when things started to go wrong at Chelsea.

Van Gaal has acted with great dignity in the face of an orchestrated media campaign to get him out. He has been visibly shocked by the vehemence of headlines such as: “Beaten, broken and on his way OUT...Van Gaal wears the look of a man awaiting execution.”

He has told Dutch journalists he has never experienced such unbridled hostility in all his years in football.

No doubt, in view of his previous record, the Dutchman will get another lucrative job when the axe falls at Old Trafford, though he may consider that trifling compensation for such character assassination.

Louis van Gaal has been given a tough time by the British media
Louis van Gaal has been given a tough time by the British media ©Getty Images

But what of his lordship? Has the ongoing scandal within the IAAF and at the very root of track and field left him as damaged goods, even if, as he maintains, he had no part in it?

If so, any aspirations he may have had to become the next President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) may have gone out of the proverbial window, even though there are eight years in which the tsunami-sized tempest can subside.

Can he survive the storm, restore the credibility of his sport and convince the IOC he is capable of running the show when Thomas Bach steps down in 2021? Let’s hope so.

At the moment the once elegantly flying feet of the golden hero of Moscow and Los Angeles and much-vaunted architect of arguably the finest-ever Olympic Games just over two years ago, are now deemed to be composed of clay. 

Not for a moment do I believe that Coe has lost the plot. But he has certainly lost the media who once lauded him as the greatest living Briish sports figure.

It seems that Coe’s "crimes", according the chin-stroking columnists who occupy not just the sports sections of the papers, are four-fold: that he did not initially recognise the validity of the well-researched revelations about widepsread doping and corruption in athletics, and notably Russian athletics, preferring to accuse the media of declaring war on "my sport".

That he took too long to sever his conflicting professional connections with Nike after assuming office; that said he knew nothing about the backhanders allegedly pocketed by IAAF boss Lamine Diack, despite being for several years his vice-president; and, worst of all, that he is a Tory toff!

One of his most savage critics has been The Independent’s Ian Herbert, who accuses him, among other things, of possessing a vast superiority complex, a man of  "weasel words who poses like royalty".

Ouch! Yet I doubt they have ever met.

Coe once described to me the British media as the most forensic in the world. Now both he and Van Gaal are among those (Mourinho and new world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury are others) who now know it is also the most vicious, blood-lusting and not infrequently deliberately mischievous. 

Yet he has always argued, and still does, that journalists should be free to write things those in authority might not like.

Sebastian Coe is another who has faced criticism
Sebastian Coe is another who has faced criticism ©Getty Images

Athletics is certainly in an unseemly mess, yet it is by no means alone in having a drugs problem, massive as it is. As I have written here before I have lost count of the missives received from UK Anti-Doping detailing positive tests in numerous sports, from darts to ice hockey, via rowing, boxing, cycling and weightlifting, and not least both codes of rugby.

Just before Christmas a two-year suspension was even imposed on a rally driver following an in-competition test which revealed the use of cocaine and diuretics.

Unfortunately Coe has allowed himself to get boxed in, just as he did in the 800 metres final in Moscow.

In doing so the British Olympic Association chief seems to have made more enemies in the media than he still has friends- and I include myself among the latter.

He has made one shrewd move in appointing Paul Deighton, now Lord Deighton, who was his brilliant right hand man throughout the build-up and execution of London 2012, to help implement the reforms needed within the IAAF.

Deighton, currently Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and one of the brains behind the Budget box, is someone who gets things done, a no-messing sort of bloke. Just what Coe needs at the moment.

I believe Coe is an honourable guy, if a frustratingly stubborn and sometimes surprisingly naive one who took too long to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

He now needs to stop playing political games and be allowed to get on with the job he was elected to do, sorting out a deeply troubled sport.

Twenty-twenty-one may be a long distance race but it gives time enough for him to ride out this potentially fatal media storm and emerge, still young enough at 64, as a genuine candidate, to become lord of the Olympic rings.

Meantime, there are more pressing matters, so to speak, for both him and Louis van Gaal.