Louis van Gaal failed to meet Manchester United's expectations

Manchester United fans are in positive mood after the club joined Arsenal as record 12-time FA Cup winners on Saturday, which was followed by news that Louis van Gaal is no longer the club's manager.

It may sound harsh that the departure of a good man and once-great football manager has raised spirits, but that's the reality. Fans wanted change, they wanted Jose Mourinho and they'll get what they wished for.

Van Gaal will have his counter arguments but he was judged fairly after two years in charge. The football played under him was largely dull, with too few goals; that's simply not good enough for a club of United's size. This season's haul of 49 league goals was the lowest for 26 years.

Failure to finish in the top four of the Premier League was the final straw and Van Gaal can have few complaints. The club stuck by him for longer than fans wanted and he was given every chance to get things right. He'll have plenty to think about when he makes his way to Portugal, where he plans to take a holiday.

"He's sad and disappointed," explained his friend Cees Wijburg, who was a guest of Van Gaal's last week in Manchester. "The news was unexpected but not a surprise. The FA Cup win didn't help him."

It would have been better if, immediately after Saturday's win against Crystal Palace, the news wasn't dominated by reports of Mourinho's arrival. Van Gaal's wife Truus looked surprised as she was informed of the news by a Dutch journalist and subsequently told her husband. Even on Sunday, the couple felt in limbo and uncertain about what lay ahead.

But Manchester United didn't leak that story; it came from Portugal. The club, specifically executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, had kept counsel on the managerial situation for six months. Even United's most senior figures didn't know what was happening.

Woodward courted a range of views from respected football voices and, as he did, gave nothing away. When he was asked outright, he said that he hadn't yet made up his mind. Woodward needs this managerial appointment, his third, to be a success.

By contrast, fans have long wanted Van Gaal gone. In recent polls among match-going United supporters, over 80 percent consistently wanted the manager to be dismissed, though that majority was seldom reflected at matches, where Van Gaal encountered minimal dissent.

The majority of the players also wanted change. They'd long been irked by his tactics and persona, the way he spoke down to them and the number of meetings he called.

It wasn't just Van Gaal but also his staff. Coach Albert Stuivenberg irritated the players so much on the training ground two weeks ago that he was lucky there wasn't a physical confrontation. David De Gea has had better relationships with goalkeeping coaches than he had with Frans Hoek.
Louis van Gaal's Manchester United reign had too few goods moments like Saturday's FA Cup win.
Several of Van Gaal's staff will also depart. They said their goodbyes with a "see you in August" line after last Tuesday's final home league game against Bournemouth, but one person who shook hands was deeply unconvinced that he'd ever see them again. And he won't.

By the evening of May 15, when it was clear that United wouldn't be playing Champions League football next season -- the most tangible sign of failure -- close friends of Van Gaal said they didn't expect him to be in charge next season. As he sat in his favourite Manchester restaurant, the manager knew that he'd missed the main target.

In mitigation, players have always griped about those coaching them, even in United's most successful times when they objected to assistant manager Carlos Queiroz addressing them by their second names.

But Van Gaal recruited poorly. Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian and Morgan Schneiderlin were his players and none, for various reasons, have worked out so far. Maybe they will but only Anthony Martial has been a resounding success to date, though Daley Blind also enjoyed a decent season.

The doubts which began to trickle in after Van Gaal's first season became a torrent in December 2015 when United went out of the Champions League and failed to win in eight games. After a home defeat to a Norwich City side who would be relegated, Van Gaal looked a sad figure as he pondered out loud: "I am -- or maybe I say now 'was' -- a very successful manager."
He also said that day: "I don't think a change of management should bring direct success" but, by then, any change would be better for worn-down fans than what they'd watched. Mourinho was their early favourite and that never changed. Indeed, his stock increased when Pep Guardiola's Manchester City appointment was announced.

Support for the alternatives, the main one being Ryan Giggs, was always limited among fans who wanted a more experienced coach. The players wanted him to be manager and felt he was ready. Some are concerned at the prospect of Mourinho's arrival.

The club don't want to lose Giggs but the 42-year-old must decide whether he wants to stay or go it alone in full-time management. He has the option of sitting down with Mourinho and the pair get on well with each other.

Mourinho gets on well with other former United players including Gary Neville. The two were in contact when Neville coached at Valencia this past season. United's view of their former right-back is that, despite his less than successful time in Spain, he's better for the experience.

Van Gaal will rightly be credited for believing in youth, though a horrendous injury list meant he had to turn to young players like Marcus Rashford more than he might ordinarily have done.

The belief was genuine, though. When Van Gaal was offered a world-class full-back in January, a player Giggs wanted to sign and who would have been hugely popular among fans, the manager said no because he believed in his young players.

In the end, though, Van Gaal has not met expectations. At Barcelona, failure to win a European Cup did for him. Less was demanded at United but standards were nevertheless not met, even if the FA Cup win allows him to end a stellar career on a high.

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