“It’s over” muttered Louis van Gaal, Manchester United manager, when he spoke to journalists just a day after winning the FA Cup.
Success at Wembley did not dampen the speculation that the Dutchman would soon be replaced by ex-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who himself was sacked as Chelsea manager barely six months after winning the championship with the West Londoners.
There has been conjecture that van Gaal rocked the dressing room soon after his Old Trafford appointment by objecting players to his unyielding methods. Stifling tactics, an iron fist and a tendency to be over-critical led to his downfall. While this may be the case he should also be credited with bringing through home-grown talents such as Cup winner Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford.
Furthermore, 20-year-old Anthony Martial has flourished at Old Trafford under the ex-Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach. Despite the weight of a hefty price tag, Martial finished his maiden Old Trafford campaign with 17 goals, seven assists and an FA Cup.
It is understood that van Gaal is seething by his employers’ silence on his future but a termination package of approximately £4.55m (he stands to receive a £400K bonus for winning the FA Cup) will soften the blow.
Meanwhile, Mourinho will land the job he has craved for years. Once he was aware Sir Alex Ferguson was retiring in 2013, Mourinho was convinced that his friendship with the Scot would sway the Manchester United hierarchy towards him. His despair following David Moyes’ appointment was brilliantly documented in Diego Torres’ biography The Special One – The Dark Side of Jose Mourinho.
That said, if Mourinho brought controversy and chaos during his last two managerial reigns off the pitch, on the pitch there is confidence that United will begin to excite their bewildered fans once again.
Mourinho’s Real outscored Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona during two of his three La Liga seasons, while his Inter side regularly entertained but were more tactic focused late on in seasons when silverware was on the line.
With no Champions League distractions, Luke Shaw returning to fitness and a proven but albeit short-sighted manager at the helm, the Red Devils possess the ingredients to be in the title mix next season.