KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Nothing in Louis Van Gaal’s tenure at Manchester United became him like the leaving of it with victory in the FA Cup Final expected to be followed imminently with his replacement by Jose Mourinho.
The former Chelsea, Real Madrid, Internazionale and Porto manager remained silent in the wings while United recovered from a goal down to defeat Crystal Palace 2-1 after extra time with a late, late strike Jesse Lingard saving Wembley from a penalty shootout.
Van Gaal can now reflect that, for all his failure to guide United back into the Champions League, he has maintained his own personal record of having won a trophy with each club in his managerial career.
For all that and a sarcastic wave of the FA Cup at journalists in his last press conference, Van Gaal has not delivered what was demanded by the owning Glazer family and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward – a return among the European elite.
Hence the expectation that speculation about Mourinho’s arrival, which has been building since January, will be confirmed very shortly. Indeed unofficial confirmation was circulating among the media even before Van Gaal arrived to deliver his assessment of the game and the future. Both were purely academic.
Palace, ill-served by some of the decisions of Champions League Final referee Mark Clattenburg, appeared poised to upset the predictions wehn substitute Jason Puncheon put them ahead 12 minutes from time.
But United, whose Marouane Fellaini and Antony Martial had already hit the posts, deserved to level within three minutes when captain and man of the match Wayne Rooney provided the cross which the Belgian chested down for Juan Mata to convert at close range.
United lost Chris Smalling to a second yellow card for hauling back Yannick Bolasie in extra time before Lingard won the club’s record-equalling 12th FA Cup – matching Arsenal – when he punished Damien Delaney’s poor clearance after 110 minutes.
Smalling was the fourth player and the first from England to be sent off in an FA Cup Final after United’s Kevin Moran in 1985, Jose Reyes in 2005 and Pablo Zabaleta in 2013.
At least Van Gaal can take credit for returning United to winning ways for the first time since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
Van Gaal, the third Dutch manager to win the FA Cup after Guus Hiddink and Ruud Gullit, said: “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.
“We had 10 players, and we have played Tuesday evening also, but we have deserved it I think.”
On the job front, he remained stoical, saying: “I show you the cup and I don’t discuss it [my future] with my friends of the media, who already sacked me six months ago.”
When pressed on whether he will be at Old Trafford as manager of United next season, he replied: “I hope to see you. I don’t want to talk about about leaving this club.”
The Dutchman has spent £250m on new players and still has one season remaining on his three-year deal but United are ready to pay out.
Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew, a losing player with his club against United more than two decades ago, said: “My players gave everything and deserved to win but we had a couple of decisions that went against us, big time. But I’m not going to bleat. It was a great performance from both teams, great final.”
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