So there it is. Manchester United’s long search for a major trophy after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement finally came to a positive end. The Reds’ 2-1 FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace at Wembley brought glory and silverware to the club – and Louis van Gaal the sack. It was the Van Gaal’s first taste of success in England, but was swiftly followed by an end to a period in which the Dutchman has increasingly alienated supporters and, critically, failed to deliver on his promises. Retirement beckons, José Mourinho beckons. Louis goes, but it is with a modicum of dignity restored. The same cannot be said for Ed Woodward.
The end – for Manchester United’s season and for Louis van Gaal’s time at United. At least the old boy went out with some silverware to show for it after one of the most miserable campaign’s in living memory ended with the Dutchman facing the sack. Van Gaal’s time at United has been a failure, even if it concluded with the veteran coach defiantly parading the FA Cup in front of the media on Saturday night. Plus ça change, Louis. Welcome, José.
So it came to pass – Manchester United failed to reach the Champions League for the second time in three years. Confirmation was delayed by 48 hours, but Manchester City’s draw at Swansea all but guaranteed the Blues a place at the top table of European football. Despite beating Bournemouth on Tuesday, Louis van Gaal’s side is out: of time, of the Champions League, of credibility.
Just when Louis van Gaal’s side has seemingly reached its nadir along comes a fresh blow. The FA Cup semi-final victory over Everton was a high, only partially puncture by a limp home draw against Champions Leicester. In fact, Manchester City’s home draw with Arsenal gave United real hope of making the Champions League and redeeming a season. Then came two dreadful performances on the road: in victory over Norwich City and defeat to West Ham United.
Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. It was a performance to reflect a season. In keeping with too many of his colleagues, Memphis Depay was dreadful in Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over doomed Norwich City on Saturday. It was a fresh nadir in a hugely disappointing campaign; one that threatens to conclude the Dutchman’s United career after just one year in England. It shouldn’t. Memphis has not earned another chance at United, but neither was he always the master of his fate. With talent and time on his side, the club should accede him a second chance.
It couldn’t happen, could it? Since Manchester United’s dismal December the foremost assumption has been that the Reds’ fate lies outside the top four, and with it a second year in three away from the Champions League. Yet, with just three Premier League games remaining, Louis van Gaal’s side is hot on the coat-tails of Manchester City, with an FA Cup final to come. Salvation for Van Gaal, perhaps, and possible redemption for a group of players that has largely underwhelmed.
You know the meme about Christian Grey’s unconventional tastes? It could well be due an update following Louis van Gaal’s revealing interview in the aftermath of Manchester United’s draw with Leicester City at the weekend. Pulling hair, says the Dutchman, is allowed in “sex masochism” but not on the pitch – this despite Robert Huth’s best efforts to put Marouane Fellaini off his A-game. Fellaini hit the Leicester defender where it hurts, though nobody was sure whether Huth actually likes that sort of thing. Either way, it was hardly a lover’s touch.
Did you hear the one about Louis van Gaal’s sex life? It was a lot more entertaining than his football team. Once again this week Van Gaal proved better value for money off the pitch than on it as United laboured to a score draw against Leicester City at Old Trafford. The Dutchman called it United’s “best performance of the season” – although he has a very small pool of decent performances to pick from.
Sore head this morning? You should have after Manchester United beat Everton at Wembley to reach the FA Cup final, following shortly on from another solid Premier League win. Could Louis van Gaal’s team make a late charge to reach the Champions League and end the season with silverware?
They say a week is a long time in football. It is when it comes to Louis van Gaal’s unique brand of football. One step forward, how many back? Manchester United’s victory over West Ham in the FA Cup brought rare cheer on the road, only for the Reds’ old limitations to be exposed once again as the Premier League’s worst team, Aston Villa, visited Old Trafford. Same on Louis van Gaaal, same old performance then.