Manchester United have parted company with manager Louis van Gaal after two seasons in charge.
After being appointed as David Moyes’ successor on the back of Ryan Giggs’ four game interim stint in the role, the Dutchman signed a three-year deal, commencing on the back of guiding the Netherlands to third place at the 2014 World Cup.
Success like this, as well as winning 20 previous honours across such prestigious clubs as Ajax, FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich, saw Van Gaal as the ideal candidate to take United back to winning and challenging for major honours once more.
These honours included the 1995 Champions League with Ajax and a shock yet heralded Eredivisie triumph with AZ Alkmaar against the odds in 2009.
That Champions League success was filled with vibrant youth stars that had progressed through the famed Ajax academy, with Van Gaal’s reputation in trusting youth quickly growing.
This seemed to be the case at United, where he gave 14 United academy stars their debuts, as well as purchasing 19-year-old at the time Anthony Martial, who has rapidly become a key member of the club’s roster.
Not to mention the signings of Luke Shaw, 20, and Memphis Depay, 22, both of whom have huge careers in the game should they knuckle down and enjoy a prolonged period in the first team.
Despite sticking with United’s roots and giving youth a chance, many believe that this happened through default, with injuries limiting the 64-year-old’s options.
Having failed to bolster the squad last summer, as well as sanctioning a number of high profile departures, including Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez, the belief that Van Gaal was forced to pick so many youngsters during his tenure is noteworthy.
Even then, Andreas Pereira is one highly-rated prodigy who hasn’t been given a fair crack at the whip, with Van Gaal blocking a loan move away in January in promise of game time, before handing the Brazilian just four substitute appearances since.
Another example is Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, whose minutes in the absence of Shaw have not been as frequent as many fans had hoped for given his impressive performances and Marcos Rojo’s misgivings.
Having spent close to £250m since arriving, the club scraped fourth place playing once a week before finishing a below par fifth position this time around, missing out on Champions League football for a second time in three seasons.
A vast sum of that was splashed out on Angel Di Maria, one of the world’s best, but it speaks volumes that Van Gaal couldn’t get the best out of someone so talented.
The Argentine was a player that world giants Real Madrid were reluctant to sell and has since embraced life at Paris St-Germain, another leader of Europe’s top bracket of clubs.
Van Gaal’s man-management skills were often called into question, due to his rigid training methods, favouritism of players and strict regime.
This told on the pitch, with the lacklustre philosophy seeing many backwards passes and minuscule adventure in the style of play, at a club who has always seemingly adopted a ‘we’ll outscore you’ mentality.
United registered just 49 goals in the league this season, for only the 12th time in the club’s history and just the fifth time since the Second World War.
Figures like this led many sections of Old Trafford to ironically cheer a shot on goal, with United going over 11 hours without a first half home goal midway through the season.
Other statistics included embarking on an eight match winless run for the first time in over two-and-a-half decades, and four match losing streak during that period, for the first time since 1961.
David De Gea became the first player in United’s history to win the Player of the Year award for a third consecutive time, which tells its own story about the attack in recent times that a goalkeeper has done so.
Even then his attitude last summer was called into question by Van Gaal despite the Spaniard being mentally prepared despite the ongoing transfer saga surrounding the man between the sticks.
This highlights another incident of a questionably approach to deal with his players, with rumours surfacing that the veteran manager kept senior players and younger players apart during meals, as well as allegedly keeping an eye on player emails.
Another example of this is the banishment of goalkeeper Victor Valdes from the club’s UNICEF dinner, after a falling out in which Van Gaal questioned Valdes’ attitude when being asked to play for the U21s.
Third choice goalkeeper Sam Johnstone’s agent also hit out at Van Gaal earlier in the season for blocking a loan spell away from the club.
On the pitch, this season’s Champions League diminish saw United knocked out of a more than winnable group, consisting of PSV Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow and VfL Wolfsburg.
This sent United into the Europa League, where bizarre tactics, team selection and little fight saw an early exit to arch-rivals Liverpool, a competition where the winner automatically qualifies for next season’s Champions League.
During a record of just 54 wins in 103 games, 24 losses in that time have seen shock League Cup exits at home to Middlesbrough on penalties, as well as a 4-0 thrashing at League One outfit MK Dons.
Unwanted records were also broken, as Norwich City became the first newly-promoted side to win at Old Trafford for 14 years, with West Bromwich Albion recording their first home league victory against United in 32 years, as well as losing at Sunderland for the first time in the Premier League era.
Back-to-back away defeats to Swansea City and at home to Southampton also dampened Van Gaal’s record against the lesser sides, despite an impressive big game record.
That record sees the following points accumulated:
Liverpool: 12 from 12 plus an International Cup victory.
Manchester City: 7 from 12.
Arsenal: 7 from 12.
Everton: 9 from 12 plus an FA Cup semi-final victory.
Tottenham: 7 from 12.
Chelsea: 3 draws where United were the better side and one undeserved and narrow loss.
Plus pre-season victories against the likes of LA Galaxy, AS Roma, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
This big game pedigree sadly wasn’t matched consistently throughout the season, with many poor performances and shock results doing little to aid Van Gaal’s overall stock against supporters.
Having been used to the badgering of officials and players alike on the touchline under Sir Alex Ferguson, Van Gaal was far less animated, instead adopting a restricted approach that saw him take down notes via his clipboard during each game.
This led to questions about his desire, and reiterates the point about his over-egging of every detail, instead of embracing the emotion and passion of the match.
Having gone from quoting, “being fourth is no target, we have to be number one”, to claiming the fans expectations are too high in 24 months, it was time for change.
This wasn’t the fairytale end to Van Gaal’s managerial career, where he is likely to retire to his second home in Portugal with his wife Truus.
Nonetheless, Saturday’s FA Cup Final victory against Crystal Palace restored some dignity, maintaining his record of winning something in every country that he has been employed, as well as securing the club’s first trophy in three years and first FA Cup since 2004.
We wish Mr Van Gaal all the best going forward and thank him for his efforts, Cup victory and integration of youth.