LONDON: For a club that in 2000 was happy to ditch their defence of the FA Cup so they could play in the World Club Championship, winning soccer’s oldest trophy was never likely to be enough to convince Manchester United to keep faith with Louis van Gaal.
Too little, too late looks to be the thinking of the United board if, as was widely reported by British media on Monday, the Dutchman is to be sacked as manager two years into his three-year contract.
If Van Gaal had combined that record 12th FA Cup success by snatching a Champions League place then perhaps he might have survived but, with Jose Mourinho waiting in the wings, there will be few fans lamenting the departure.
For generations of supporters brought up to expect high octane attacking football against teams who for decades went to Old Trafford merely to survive, excuses about injuries did not justify the lamentable quality of United’s play.
Just as his predecessor David Moyes struggled to win over players and fans bloated on the years of success under Alex Ferguson, Van Gaal, for all his pedigree, also seemed to suffer in the Scot’s lengthy shadow.
A story in Monday’s Guardian newspaper said that squad members had talked among themselves about openly defying the Dutchman’s rigid tactical directions, which allegedly included instructions to players not to take first-time shots.
It also reported that the two most senior players, Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick, had raised concerns with Van Gaal about his post-match “evaluation sessions” in which he publicly criticised players in front of their teammates
With such widespread dissatisfaction it easy to forget that the 64-year-old former Ajax, Barcelona, Bayer n Munich and Netherlands coach was seen as the safe option when he was hired in May 2014 following Moyes’s sacking.
He immediately returned the club to the Champions League with a fourth-place finish but despite heavy spending on the likes of young forwards Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial and German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, United stagnated after briefly topping the table at the end of September.
“The players are bored, fans are bored, everyone’s bored,” former midfielder Paul Scholes said after one particularly meek Cup display against third tier Sheffield United in January. “You look across at the bench and Van Gaal looks bored as well.”