London (AFP) – Louis van Gaal’s sacking as Manchester United manager was finally confirmed on Monday as Jose Mourinho prepared to take charge at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal had appeared certain to lose his job since reports leaked out after United’s FA Cup final victory against Crystal Palace on Saturday that former Chelsea boss Mourinho was being lined up to replace him.
The 64-year-old had hoped leading United to their first major silverware since the retirement of legendary boss Alex Ferguson in 2013 would persuade the club’s United States-based owners, the Glazer family, to let him see out the final season of his three-year contract with the Premier League club.
But United’s failure to qualify for the lucrative Champions League proved fatal to van Gaal’s chances of survival.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss had lost the backing of many members of the United squad, who were unhappy with his rigid playing style and criticism of their mistakes, while sections of the club’s fanbase had taken to jeering him as they grew increasingly frustrated with the team’s conservative tactics.
Van Gaal felt he was hard done by after United suffered injuries to several key players and he couldn’t hide his anguish at his premature exit.
“I am very disappointed to be unable to complete our intended three year plan,” van Gaal said in a statement released by United.
“It has been an honour to manage such a magnificent club as Manchester United, and in doing so, I have fulfilled a long held ambition.
“I believe that the foundations are firmly in place to enable the club to move forward and achieve even greater success.
“I hope that winning the FA Cup will give the club a platform to build upon next season to restore the success that this passionate set of fans desire.
“I look forward to watching the continued development of these young players next season.”
United’s statement added “a decision on a successor as manager will be announced soon” as executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward praised van Gaal’s efforts.
“I would like to thank Louis and his staff for their excellent work in the past two years culminating in winning a record-equalling 12th FA Cup for the club,” Woodward said.
“He has behaved with great professionalism and dignity throughout his time here. He leaves us with a legacy of having given several young players the confidence to show their ability on the highest stage.”
– Low ebb –
After reportedly learning of his imminent sacking from his wife Truus immediately after the FA Cup final, van Gaal was driven into United’s training ground at 08:45 BST on Monday with the football world expecting his departure to be announced quickly.
But 45 minutes after his arrival, League Managers Association lawyer Paul Gilroy QC also arrived at Carrington to start the lengthy process of discussing a settlement for van Gaal, who earned a reported £6.4 million per year ($9.2 million, 8.2 million euros).
Van Gaal was eventually confirmed at 2030 BST, clearing the way for Mourinho, who was photographed walking outside his London home on Monday, to fulfil his long-held ambition of managing United.
Mourinho’s agent Jorge Mendes is believed to be arriving in Manchester on Tuesday to tie up the deal for his client.
Mourinho, who served as van Gaal’s assistant at Barcelona from 1997 to 2000, is expected to be confirmed as United boss sometime on Tuesday.
The 53-year-old Portuguese coach, who has won 21 major trophies in his glittering career, will arrive to find United at a low ebb despite their FA Cup triumph.
United suffered an embarrassing group stage exit from the Champions League before coming fifth in the Premier League to miss out on a place in Europe’s elite club competition next term.
To make matters worse, it was bitter rivals Manchester City who took the final Champions League spot after United, who had their destiny in their own hands, were beaten 3-2 at West Ham in their penultimate match.
United’s woeful lack of attacking impetus will be the first thing Mourinho needs to fix as they only scored 49 league goals — their lowest total since 1989-90.
Yet some senior United players are said to be concerned the acerbic Mourinho, who has a well-earned reputation as a cautious tactician himself, may prove to be too similar to van Gaal.
The manner of Mourinho’s departure from Chelsea in December, which was caused by a major rift with his squad just months after they were crowned English champions, will be alarming to some at Old Trafford.
Mourinho also has to deal with the future of Ryan Giggs, the United legend who served as van Gaal’s assistant but could be ready to end his 29-year association with the club.