London (AFP) – The realisation that Louis van Gaal was not the manager Manchester United had hoped for seemed to dawn on him at roughly the same time as it did the club’s supporters.
Defending his record after a 2-1 home defeat by Norwich City back in December that exposed him to the full venom of Old Trafford, he said: “I am — or maybe I have to say now, was — a very successful manager.”
The mid-sentence adjustment contained a telling admission.
Van Gaal, 64, had joined United lauded as one of the enduring figures of the Dutch school of coaching, architect of Ajax’s 1995 Champions League triumph and a league champion in three different countries, but over his stormy two-season tenure he was exposed as yesterday’s man.
Having influenced both Jose Mourinho, the man due to succeed him, and Pep Guardiola, who is set to alight at cross-town rivals Manchester City, Van Gaal, a former PE teacher, was seen as one of the fathers of modern coaching.
But his much-trumpeted “philosophy” was revealed to be an anachronism, his insistence on robotic ball circulation light years behind Guardiola’s turbo-charged attacking or the high-octane pressing game employed by Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp or Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino.
Under Alex Ferguson, the United fans’ chant of “Attack! Attack! Attack!” was the rallying cry for a team that never seemed to give up.
Under Van Gaal, it became an exasperated lament for a team that never seemed to wake up.
Characteristically, Van Gaal defended his record to the end, defiantly raising the FA Cup in front of reporters following United’s win over Crystal Palace in Saturday’s final at Wembley.
But by then the club’s hierarchy had already decided that he had presided over too many failures to be allowed to continue.
– ‘Embarrassing, Amateurish, Excruciating’ –
Emboldened by Holland’s stunning run to the semi-finals at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Van Gaal arrived at United on a high and quickly set about establishing himself as the antidote to his meek predecessor, David Moyes.
He made his presence felt quickly, appointing Wayne Rooney captain and haranguing the club for organising an arduous pre-season trip to the United States.
An admiring Rooney said that the Dutchman, christened the ‘Iron Tulip’ in his homeland for his authoritarian style, had given the squad “a different way of looking at football”.
However, after achieving the minimum requirement in his first campaign by steering United back into the Champions League, this season brought with it only stagnation and escalating fan discontent.