F.A. Cup May Be Parting Gift for Louis Van Gaal

Within minutes of Manchester United winning the F.A. Cup final, its manager, Louis van Gaal was saying on television, “It is fantastic to win this title — for the club, for the fans, and also for me because now I have won the cups in four countries. And not many managers have done that.”


Van Gaal’s words centered on himself. And they came across like a farewell speech.

As van Gaal spoke, the players were already making their way up the 107 steps at Wembley Stadium to receive the trophy from Prince William. Van Gaal followed them, wearily.

He could not enjoy even one hour of satisfaction Saturday after United beat Crystal Palace, 2-1, to win the cup for the first time in 12 years. The story was already out that José Mourinho, once van Gaal’s protégé, had been offered a three-year contract to replace him.

This will not become official until United, which is publicly traded, reports the change of manager to the New York Stock Exchange. But the story has been percolating since Dec. 17, when Chelsea fired Mourinho. Since then, there has been a steady campaign by many in the media to get van Gaal out and Mourinho in.
Jesse Lingard’s volley late in extra time gave Manchester United a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace in the F.A. Cup final.
There are no niceties in the business of professional soccer. Manchester United won the tournament that 736 clubs in England and Wales compete for every season, but it failed to qualify for next season’s Champions League after finishing fifth in the Premier League. And it was an open secret since Christmas that both United and its neighbor and rival, Manchester City, both were lining up their next managers behind the backs of the incumbents.

City reached the Champions League semifinals this season, and it nipped United for fourth place and the final spot in the Champions League, despite everybody knowing that its manager, Manuel Pellegrini, would be paid off and replaced by Pep Guardiola this summer.

Van Gaal’s time was running out despite there being another year left on his contract, and despite the signs that young players were coming through to reinvigorate United.

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, all teenagers when the season started, had burst onto the team, and they look like real prospects who can help in the years to come.

Wayne Rooney, 30, was pushed into a midfield role Saturday with the younger players in attack. In response, he looked more strong-willed than ever in the final, and he, more than anyone, refused to let Palace win the game.

It has been the year of the underdog in Britain, and Jason Puncheon fired Palace ahead late in the second half. Then, Rooney took the contest by the scruff of the neck. He surged past one, two, three, four defenders, shaking them off with bull-like power.

Rooney then chipped the ball across from the right, and when Marouane Fellaini knocked it down with his chest, Juan Mata struck it between the legs of defender Joel Ward to tie it at 1-1.Photo
José Mourinho reportedly has been offered a three-year pact to replace Louis van Gaal as the Manchester United manager. Mourinho was once a protégé of van Gaal. CreditWill Oliver/European Press photo Agency
Then, deep into extra time, the stalemate was broken by an exquisite shot from Jesse Lingard, another player promoted through the youth system at United. “The ball sat up nicely for me,” Lingard said. “All I had to do was hit it sweet, and luckily I did that.”

There was no luck about it. That volley, hit straight as an arrow, came after years of repetition at Manchester United’s academy.

The appointment of van Gaal as coach — with Ryan Giggs at his side as the intended successor — was supposed to get the club back to churning out young prospects in the same way that Alex Ferguson did during his 26 seasons as manager and that Matt Busby did before that, when United had a reputation as a team that built from within, creating its own style by nurturing its own talents.

Van Gaal, it has to be said, never came to grips with that legacy. He bought heavily from foreign teams, and he only turned to youth when his overly cautious style bored the majority of United fans.

But those who called for Mourinho may rue what they wanted. Giggs is likely to be collateral damage in all this. His line of succession, going from academy graduate to playing idol to manager-in-waiting, is broken.

The club’s American owners have not succeeded at hiring either managers or top players since both Ferguson and the club’s chief administrator, David Gill, both left at the same time three years ago.

It quickly hired — and fired — David Moyes as Ferguson’s first replacement. And with the club now tactically admitting that van Gaal was a poor fit, it leaves the door open for Mourinho to get the job that he has coveted for years.

But before all the details are thrashed out by Mourinho’s ubiquitous agent, Jorge Mendes, the doubts are beginning to rise.

Is Mourinho any less of a pragmatist or any more likely to give United back its devil-may-care attacking style than van Gaal, from whom he learned his coaching philosophy?

Can Giggs be retained for another three years under another manager who puts results by whatever means necessary above an adventurous style of play?

Has Mourinho still got it in terms of being able to impose his methods on players? His final season at Chelsea saw the club implode, going from champion to the relegation zone of the Premier League. On the night that his Chelsea tenure ended, after a loss at Leicester City, Mourinho blamed the players for failing to obey his coaching diktat.

Manchester United is gambling, again. Its season was saved by youth, yet it is about to employ a new savior whose record includes little tolerance for young players, instead favoring buying what he considers to be big-game winners.
Source: www.nytimes.com

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