LONDON — Minutes after Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United won the 2015-16 FA Cup rumors about his future at Old Trafford continued to rumble on.
Van Gaal, 64, is widely expected to be fired by United in the coming days as reports from AS in Spain and the Daily Telegraph in the UK state that Jose Mourinho is waiting in the wings to replace his former mentor.
[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]
His United players dug deep to win the clubs first trophy since 2013 but this encounter depicted the struggles United have had this season as they struggled to break down Palace and prodded and probed without much creativity in the final third. That has become commonplace under Van Gaal and it seems as though his era is coming to an end.
They went down to 10-men, battled back from falling 1-0 down and when Jesse Lingard‘s stunning volley in the 111th hit the back of the net the usually somber Van Gaal jumped from his seat and celebrated like a madman.
“It is fantastic to win this title for the club, for the fans, and also for me because I now have won the cup in four countries, and not many managers have done that,” Van Gaal said afterwards when speaking to the BBC.
[ VIDEO: Lingard’s screamer wins it for United ]
Not many managers have divided opinion so much about their futures, either. With Ryan Giggs, Van Gaal’s assistant, waiting in the wings to take over or the club potentially turning to Mourinho, it seems as though Van Gaal is set to leave.
“Thank you for your congratulations!” said Van Gaal, sarcastically, as he walked out of his combative press conference with the FA Cup in hand. It may the last time we see him in an official capacity as Manchester United boss.
Van Gaal blamed injuries and issues with being able to bring the players he wanted to the club due to complications with transfer fees. He also flatly refused to talk about speculation regarding his future, even though news was breaking during his press conference that Mourinho will replace him.
“I show you the cup. I don’t discuss it with my friends of the media who already sacked me for the last six months,” Van Gaal said. “Which manager can do that? What I have done?”
Pressed again and asked if this would be the perfect way to leave United, with a trophy and on a high, Van Gaal simply said: “I don’t want to talk about leaving the club.”
Even though he led them to glory on Saturday, he will have to start thinking about it, and seriously. His press conference summed up his tenure at Old Trafford so far. Jumbled, full of defensive comments protecting his record and a few excuses scattered in. It was classic Van Gaal as his prickly relationship with the media continues until the bitter end.
The Red Devils have now won 12 FA Cups, equaling Arsenal’s record, but what does winning an FA Cup mean (their last FA Cup success came in 2004) to a club like Manchester United when it is so used to challenging for the Premier League and UEFA Champions League?
Stephen Ward and his friend Nicholas Short are season ticket holders at Old Trafford. They’ve been unimpressed with the way this season has gone but they were excited before the game as they sipped on cans of beer on a sidestreet just off Wembley Way.
“A club like Manchester United, a club of this size should be in the final of this competition more than it has been in recent years. It’s been a while, some would say that the opposition go into today as underdogs. They will give Man United a game but Man United will get that trophy back today,” Ward said. “It means a lot to Manchester United fans to get a trophy today. I genuinely believe that. The club is going through a change. It has had, in recent times, tough times compared to the last decade or so but it will bounce back and it starts today.”
John O’Dowd and his son Sean were stood on a balcony in a shopping mall in the Wembley complex. They were leaning against the handrail, taking in the sights as United’s fans poured into Wembley.
Should Van Gaal stay?
“I don’t want him to. No disrespect to him but we need a fresh person at the top,” O’Dowd said.
Earlier this week Van Gaal stated United’s fans expectations were “too high” amid widespread disappointment at finishing fifth in the Premier League and missing out on a spot in next season’s Champions League.
“I would say they we should still be aiming for top four. Not win it. But top four comfortably,” O’Dowd said. “I don’t want to celebrate just making the top four. This lad here (points to his son, Sean) within about eight years of him supporting the club we won two European Cups and went to another final. We are brought up on that success. We have expectations like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich… we are up there.”
Outside of the bubble United’s fans live in, even outsiders felt like the Dutchman’s time was up.
Speaking to two Crystal Palace fans in their fan zone area as they sipped on beers, they agreed that Van Gaal “just isn’t a Manchester United manager.” Amanda and Richard Clark explained why.
“He’s got a philosophy and I just don’t think it is suited to English football,” Richard said.
“He’s gone,” Amanda said when asked if Van Gaal would be fired even if he won the trophy. “I think they would’ve been better sticking with [David] Moyes, but this is where their expectations come in. Fergie was a one-off.”
Well, as we all know, Van Gaal did guide United to the FA Cup and delivered a trophy in his second season in charge but it seems like it is too little too late.
He has been stubborn and forthright during his time in charge as the former Ajax, Bayern Munich and Barcelona manager has weathered storm after storm with fans, pundits and former players sticking their oars in and condemning the patient style of play he prefers. His time is almost up.
The feeling that he’s still walking on thin ice remained even when he had the FA Cup in his hands. When a replay was shown on the big screen in the stadium of Van Gaal lifting the trophy, some of United’s fans booed. Throughout the game United’s fans were subdued and seemed unimpressed with their teams play and after he lifted the trophy aloft, Van Gaal was shown hugging United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward. It wasn’t a particularly warm embrace and in the coming days we will find out if Van Gaal has been ousted by Woodward, the man who gave him a huge three-year contract back in 2014 and entrusted him with nearly $400 million in transfer funds to rebuild this dynasty.
Everything is pointing to Mourinho taking over and Van Gaal being fired.
Van Gaal delivered a trophy but he couldn’t deliver consistent success as the Red Devils aim to get back to the heights of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Now it seems like Mourinho, a former apprentice of Van Gaal, will be handed the reins. Let’s see if he will fare any better as United’s lofty expectations will likely see them appoint a fourth manager in the last three years.
Van Gaal’s reign has been a rollercoaster which has delivered one top four finish, an FA Cup and plenty of ups and downs. It seems like it will end on a high but ultimately, as it has been for quite some time, it’s all over for LVG.