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Sunday 18 February 2018

In years to come Manchester United fans may be thankful for Louis van Gaal

Louis van Gaal clearly relished the expectation that coaching England's most successful club brought
Louis van Gaal clearly relished the expectation that coaching England's most successful club brought

Few tears will have been shed when Louis van Gaal left Carrington for the final time, but in years to come Manchester United fans may well be thankful for his uncomfortable two-year residency.

There have certainly been more troughs than peaks since the 64-year-old pitched up at Old Trafford in the summer of 2014, buoyed by Holland's run to the World Cup semi-finals and a bulging CV.

Upon his unveiling, two months after his appointment was confirmed, Van Gaal pledged to give his utmost to what he called the world's biggest club - quite a statement from a man who has been at the helm of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Ajax.

The Dutchman clearly relished the expectation that coaching England's most successful club brought, yet he leaves having failed to scale the heights required.

Saturday's FA Cup glory was a fine send-off but felt more like an individual triumph for under-fire Van Gaal, who, with celebrations still in full flow, said he had nothing to prove considering he has now won a trophy in every country he has managed.

While the extra-time victory against Crystal Palace did provide the first major trophy of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, it came too late for the Dutchman having failed to win over supporters and secure Champions League qualification.

Tired, prosaic football has taken its toll on a fan base used to a swashbuckling style, with peculiar tactical decisions causing consternation inside and outside the dressing room.

United netted a meagre 49 league goals this season - the club's worst return for 26 years - and finished fifth in the standings, having wasted the chance to usurp neighbours Manchester City and sneak into the top-four.

That was the bare minimum for Van Gaal and a feat he had achieved after succeeding David Moyes, albeit they then failed to make it out of the group before exiting to Liverpool in the Europa League.

It was one of numerous blows the Dutchman somehow recovered from, but when his post-season address to supporters was booed last week he must have begun to realise his days were numbered.

Those who jeered may in time reflect on this period with positivity, thanks to Van Gaal's - perhaps forced - focus on youth.

Academy graduates Marcus Rashford, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have proven themselves capable in the first-team, joining an elite list of players to have been given their first chance under the Dutchman.

Thomas Muller, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Patrick Kluivert became world stars having been given a chance by Van Gaal, whose guidance this term has seen the likes of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial impress.

Then there is the way Wayne Rooney has recently flourished in a deeper role and United's firmed-up backline, but that cannot overshadow the underwhelming style and substance displayed most weeks.

An important transitory point in the club's post-Ferguson era this may be, but there was little doubt that a change was required once Van Gaal began speaking about unrealistic ambitions.

The top-four is a bare minimum and you would not bet against his equally outspoken successor quickly reviving United's ailing fortunes.

Press Association

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