London, United Kingdom: The realisation that Louis van Gaal was not the manager Manchester United had hoped for seemed to dawn on him at roughly the same time as it did the club's supporters.
Defending his record after a 2-1 home defeat by Norwich City back in December that exposed him to the full venom of Old Trafford, he said: "I am -- or maybe I have to say now, was -- a very successful manager."
The mid-sentence adjustment contained a telling admission.
Van Gaal, 64, had joined United lauded as one of the enduring figures of the Dutch school of coaching, architect of Ajax's 1995 Champions League triumph and a league champion in three different countries, but over his stormy two-season tenure he was exposed as yesterday's man.
Having influenced both Jose Mourinho, the man due to succeed him, and Pep Guardiola, who is set to alight at cross-town rivals Manchester City, Van Gaal, a former PE teacher, was seen as one of the fathers of modern coaching.
But his much-trumpeted "philosophy" was revealed to be an anachronism, his insistence on robotic ball circulation light years behind Guardiola's turbo-charged attacking or the high-octane pressing game employed by Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp or Tottenham Hotspur's Mauricio Pochettino.
Under Alex Ferguson, the United fans' chant of "Attack! Attack! Attack!" was the rallying cry for a team that never seemed to give up.
Under Van Gaal, it became an exasperated lament for a team that never seemed to wake up.
Characteristically, Van Gaal defended his record to the end, defiantly raising the FA Cup in front of reporters following United's win over Crystal Palace in Saturday's final at Wembley.
But by then the club's hierarchy had already decided that he had presided over too many failures to be allowed to continue.
'Embarrassing, Amateurish, Excruciating'
Emboldened by Holland's stunning run to the semi-finals at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Van Gaal arrived at United on a high and quickly set about establishing himself as the antidote to his meek predecessor, David Moyes.
He made his presence felt quickly, appointing Wayne Rooney captain and haranguing the club for organising an arduous pre-season trip to the United States.
An admiring Rooney said that the Dutchman, christened the 'Iron Tulip' in his homeland for his authoritarian style, had given the squad "a different way of looking at football".
However, after achieving the minimum requirement in his first campaign by steering United back into the Champions League, this season brought with it only stagnation and escalating fan discontent.
Van Gaal spent over £250 million ($362.7 million, 323.1 million euros) on new players and while there were some successes (Daley Blind, Anthony Martial), there were also several clanking failures (£59.7 million record signing Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Memphis Depay).
He came good on his promise of promoting young players, with 20-year-old Martial and 18-year-old academy graduate Marcus Rashford carrying the fight over the season's closing months.
But for all his protestations about injuries, there was no disguising United's limp football, which saw them finish the Premier League campaign with their lowest goal tally (49) in 26 years.
Their group-phase exit in the Champions League, following a 3-2 loss away to Wolfsburg, was particularly damaging and drew the withering back-page headline from The Times: "Embarrassing, Amateurish, Excruciating."
Failure to secure a return to the competition for next season ultimately sealed Van Gaal's fate.
As a league champion with Ajax, Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich and the man who launched the careers of Edwin van der Sar, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, the De Boer brothers, Clarence Seedorf, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Thomas Muller, Van Gaal's legacy remains intact.
Players like Rashford and teenage full-backs Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson may go on to enjoy similarly glorious careers, but as Van Gaal was belatedly made to realise, he is no longer the inspiring figure he once was.
Published Date: May 24, 2016 03:05 pm | Updated Date: May 24, 2016 03:05 pm