Van Gaal should call time on career after Manchester United sacking


The concerned wife, children and grandchildren who Louis van Gaal cited in a February outburst against the press can rest easy. Surely now, his race is run.

Since his all-conquering Ajax team sprung a surprise to beat AC Milan in the 1995 Champions League final, Van Gaal has been a towering figure in European football.

It will undoubtedly rankle with the fiercely ambitious 64-year-old that, having scooped a total of six domestic league titles across spells at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, his most notable achievements at Manchester United were a fourth-place Premier League finish to prompt a failed Champions League campaign and a solitary FA Cup triumph.

Van Gaal's stated intention that United would be his last job could be overridden by pride. Riding off into the sunset at the end of his contract in 2017 would have felt vastly different to this.

The Dutchman has been unceremoniously dumped just two days after winning the FA Cup against Crystal Palace at Wembley, even if he lasted longer than many predicted by surviving a tumultuous festive period when his sacking seemed imminent.

In February, he bemoaned: "The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope."

How he copes will be interesting. Does he quit, or give it one more shot elsewhere?

One possibility to appeal to the romantics is a return to Ajax. Second spells at Barcelona and with the Dutch national team show Van Gaal has no aversion to going back.

Frank de Boer, a star man on the field during Van Gaal's time with the Amsterdam giants, has left to seek new challenges elsewhere in Europe. But, since a fresh-faced Patrick Kluivert sunk Milan at Vienna's Ernst-Happel-Stadion, circumstances have changed beyond recognition for all concerned.

Ajax no longer dine at European football's top table. This season, they returned to the Austrian capital only to be knocked out of the Champions League before the group stage by Rapid Vienna. The irresistible swagger of Johan Cruyff and his fellow 1970s greats will find no heirs in the current crop.

Van Gaal was a man steeped in that tradition of 'Total Football' tweaked for modern demands, as the likes of Jari Litmanen, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars and the De Boer twins led Ajax to the top of the game once more.

The spectacle of such a manager being implored to "attack, attack, attack" by the Old Trafford faithful two decades on is incredible, but time and experience have changed Van Gaal.

Failure in his first spell with Netherlands and second time around at Barcelona left the esteemed coach on the scrap head, by common consensus finished as a man who might fill the top jobs.

In 2005, he went back to AZ - the club where he concluded his playing days - and created what he would term his "little masterpiece".

Unheralded AZ were shaped into a ruthless, counter-attacking machine, culminating in a 2008-09 Eredivisie triumph. It arguably stands as Van Gaal's crowning achievement and paved the way for him to take the reins at Bayern.

However, his pretensions towards Total Football were gone at precisely the time when modern football and, perhaps more importantly, wealthy and influential club owners were falling in love with Pep Guardiola's tiki-taka revolution at Barcelona - the game's latest defining statement of artistry.

Van Gaal the pragmatist took Bayern to the Bundesliga crown, a Champions League final and Netherlands to within a penalty shootout of the 2014 World Cup final.

By then, bravado brimming, he was Old Trafford-bound but navigating the uncertain landscape of the post-Alex Ferguson years proved a step too far for Van Gaal version 2.0.

Where AZ were imprinted with a clear identity, United have been muddled tactically and their manager's confrontational style has come to look increasingly dated.

"That is not my cup of tea how he always tries to fight with the press," said De Boer earlier this year. His generation does things differently.

At the end of a season when Jose Mourinho's me-against-the-world act contributed to his demise at Chelsea, Van Gaal has gone the same way. Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp sung "Happy Birthday" to Liverpool's press officer.

In his advancing years, the departed Manchester United manager needs a reboot in terms of tactics and presentation. That he managed one against-the-odds reinvention is to his immense credit.

But now is the time to walk away.