“It’s over.” Those were Louis van Gaal’s own brusque words to a Sky reporter on the steps of the Corinthia Hotel the day after United won their record-equalling FA Cup.
At that moment, I actually felt a pang of sadness for this once great and respected manager. Don’t get me wrong, his two-year tenure at United has been disappointing to say the least. The style of play and strict authoritarianism did not go down well with many of the team and non-playing staff alike.
Some players saw his tactics as restrictive and incompatible with the high-tempo, youthful cut and thrust of the Premier League. His post-match video reviews, highlighting mistakes made and players that had dared to think for themselves, caused Rooney and Carrick to eventually voice dissent.
How far van Gaal felt he had progressed with his project at United, we may never know. Was the team finally starting to take shape in his eyes? After a dour and uneventful season, we only missed out on Champions League by goal difference, won the FA cup, and the youth system was blossoming under his tenure.
And as the TV commentator Martin Tyler pointed out during the cup final, the players at United were fighting to the bitter end for their manager, unlike Chelsea, who downed tools during their mutiny against Mourinho; the Premier League champions dropped to one point above the relegation zone by December.
United will probably never again relive the glories of Ferguson era. In those halcyon days during our twenty year dominance, we basically only had Arsenal and Chelsea to contend with. Now look how the league has changed; a team costing no more that Memphis Depay won the league through hard work and honesty, and a majestic manager many had written off.
I just finished reading another brilliant Man Utd book – This Is the One: Sir Alex Ferguson – The Uncut Story of a Football Genius by Daniel Taylor, who has covered United for the Guardian since 1998. It offers a fantastic insight into the inside of the press conferences we, the fans, don’t see.
In the 2005/06 season, everything seemed to be going wrong – there were explosive fallouts with Keane and van Nistelrooy, the Rock of Gibraltar episode, and the resurgence of Chelsea and the young upstart Mourinho. The United fanbase was becoming disenchanted, and there was speculation that Fergie might be forced out of the job. By the following season, though, he’d turned it all around. The lesson, in case you weren’t sure, is that sometimes we forget that it was not always rosy in Ferguson’s garden.
But back to the here and now. The precocious and self-obsessed Mourinho will now take over at Old Trafford. Some call him van Gaal 2.0. Apparently he has already told the board he will not sign a behavioural clause in his contract and for that reason, amongst others, I would steer well clear. Meanwhile, Warren Joyce has been approached by Blackburn, so we could lose someone I thought would have been a great prospect as United’s next manager after the sterling work he has achieved with the under 21s. However, it seems Woodward is once again pandering to the markets rather than the institution that is Old Trafford.
As one United fan said of Mourinho recently, “If he loves the club as much as himself, we might be okay.” I couldn’t agree more.