Gone, but not forgotten. Louis van Gaal’s legacy at Manchester United is going to be a topic of debate for some time. With the Dutchman’s dismissal announced, his achievments are now open for discussion. Van Gaal is far from popular, and while even an FA Cup win couldn’t save him, maybe in the years to come fans may come to appreciate the young core the Dutchman has left for incoming manager José Mourinho to build upon.
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.
As the old saying goes, it’s not despair, but the hope that kills you. On Tuesday night, Manchester United travelled to East London to face West Ham United with Champions League qualification on the line. The Reds needed a win to leap-frog Manchester City into fourth place with one game remaining after the Blues had come unstuck at home to Arsenal. Yet, as has so often been the case during Louis Van Gaal’s disastrous reign as United manager, his team fell apart on the big occasion. On an emotional night in East London the Hammers out-played and out-fought United in every department. It was West Ham’s last appearance at the Boleyn Ground, but in truth the home side did little more than expose United for the poorly managed, disorganised mess that the side now is.
Friday, Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman/lightning rod/chief figure of fun (delete as appropriate) was ‘grilled’ by investors when he reported on the club’s financial results for the third quarter. Much like the ‘grilling’ in the second quarter there was little surprise that investor questions focus little on Manchester United’s on the pitch challenges.
It’s been a lean year in Manchester. Whether Red or Sky Blue, struggles abound in England’s North-West. Rivals for more than a century, the Premier League’s two most financially powerful clubs share the common trait of suffering through on-the-field issues that are not easily fixed. For all the money on show neither side seems capable of buying its way up the table, nor capturing fourth place and with it the Champions League.
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.
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.
In a disappointing campaign, there are few shining lights. Should United win the FA Cup it will bring joy to a club in dire need of a celebration three years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Yet, there have been too few players who emerge from the season with credit and reputation intact. It left Manchester United’s goalkeeper, David de Gea, as the club’s Player of the Season for the third campaign running. But was De Gea really the most worthy winner?