Few tears may have been shed when Louis van Gaal left Carrington for the final time, but in years to come Man United fans may well be thankful for his uncomfortable two-year residency.
There have certainly been more troughs thank peaks since the 64-year-old pitched up at Old Trafford in the summer of 2014, buoyed by Holland’s run to the World Cup semi-finals and a bulging CV. Upon his unveiling, two months after his appointment was confirmed, Van Gaal pledged to give his utmost to what he called the world’s biggest club — quite a statement from a man that has been at the helm of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Ajax.
The Dutchman clearly relished the expectation coaching England’s most successful club brought, yet he leaves having failed to scale the heights.
Saturday’s FA Cup glory was a fine send-off but felt more like an individual triumph for under-fire Van Gaal, who, with celebrations still in flow, said he had nothing to prove given he now won a trophy in each country he managed.
While the extra-time win over Palace did provide the first major trophy of the post-Alex Ferguson era, it came too late for the Dutchman having failed to win over supporters and secure Champions League qualification.
Tired, prosaic football has taken its toll on a fan base used to a swashbuckling style, with peculiar tactical decisions causing consternation inside and outside the dressing room.
United netted a meagre 49 league goals this season — the club’s worst return for 26 years — and finished fifth in the standings, having wasted the chance to usurp neighbours City and sneak into the top-four.
That was the bare minimum for Van Gaal and a feat he had achieved after succeeding David Moyes, albeit they then failed to make it out of the group before exiting to Liverpool in the Europa League. It was one of numerous blows the Dutchman somehow recovered from, but when his post-season address to supporters was booed last week he must have begun to realise his days were numbered.
Those that jeered may in time reflect on this period with positivity, thanks to Van Gaal’s — perhaps forced — focus on youth. Academy graduates Marcus Rashford, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have proven themselves capable in the first-team, joining an elite list to have been given their chance by the Dutchman.
Thomas Muller, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Patrick Kluivert became world stars having been given a chance by Van Gaal, whose guidance this term has seen the likes of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial impress. Then there is the way Wayne Rooney has flourished in a deeper role and United’s firmed-up backline, but that cannot overshadow the underwhelming style and substance displayed most weeks.
An important transitory point in the club’s post-Ferguson era this may be, but there was little doubt a change was required once Van Gaal began speaking about unrealistic ambitions.
The top-four is a bare minimum and you would not bet against his equally outspoken successor quickly reviving United’s ailing fortunes.
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