The sadness behind Manchester Uniteds last FA Cup win – Manchester Evening News

The sadness behind Manchester Uniteds last FA Cup win – Manchester Evening News

It could have been the start of a new dawn for Manchester United.

But instead, the first major trophy the club lifted since Sir Alex Ferguson retired may be remembered for what happened immediately afterwards.

The champagne which flowed at Wembley Stadium following an exciting late comeback win over Crystal Palace in the 2016 FA Cup final soon took on a new meaning as leaving drinks for the United manager Louis Van Gaal, rather than a toast for some much-needed silverware.

And the chaos began moments after the final whistle.

Wayne Rooney with Louis van Gaal after the 2016 cup victory

For the Dutch veteran the FA Cup had always been the pinnacle of football glory.

Growing up as one of nine brothers and sisters at his family home in Amsterdam, the showpiece Wembley final was one of the few English games televised overseas, so Van Gaal was quickly captivated by the history and tradition of the famous trophy from a young age.

His crowning moment, in the final match of his career, was quickly overshadowed by breaking news alerts that he was set to be replaced as manager hardly before United had a chance to lift the cup and pose for photos.

Two days later it was officially confirmed by the club: serial winner Jose Mourinho, his former understudy at Barcelona, was to take his place.

“Qualification [for the Champions League] is not a title, a title is the FA Cup,” Van Gaal had reiterated as he looked to rouse a divided team for their meeting with Crystal Palace under the Wembley arch five years ago.

“It is important for the players.

“They can look at and hold the Cup, that’s an exciting moment and especially here in England because the FA Cup is a big title.”

While many of his squad looked on in envy at those who had finished ahead of them in the race for the Premier League top four that season, he is right that in the years to come it will be the FA Cup winner’s medal they cherish and tell their grandchildren all about.

Van Gaal was sacked just days after winning the cup
(Image: 2016 AMA Sports Photo Agency)

At the time few fans would argue for Van Gaal to remain in charge, but the manner in which the Dutch legend learned of his fate shortly after the full-time whistle will forever tarnish what should have been another proud day in the club’s modern history.

“I don’t want to talk about leaving the club,” Van Gaal firmly replied as he sat behind the gleaming trophy responding to another question regarding his future in the tense post-match press conference which followed.

Rashford and Lingard pose with their manager, who would soon be leaving

Van Gaal went on to speak of his ‘pride’ at being the first manager to win silverware for the club since Ferguson retired, but soon his demeanour began to deteriorate as the incessant questions of his suitability for the role continued.

“We were very aware of it,” his captain Wayne Rooney told the UTD podcast when reflecting on the inevitable dismissal which would follow just 48 hours later.

Former United managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Louis van Gaal celebrate with the FA Cup trophy

“You could see he was upset.

“I actually went and pulled him for a chat in the party we had afterwards.

“He was in the corner with his wife and he was really quiet.”

The club’s leading scorer admits that although the players really enjoyed their evening, not even a rallying call for Louis to reflect on what he had accomplished at the club could distract him from the axe which was so clearly looming over him.

A year on from his sacking and Van Gaal was adamant the cup triumph was the biggest trophy he won in a career which saw him lift the Champions League as well as league titles in Spain, Germany and The Netherlands.

The FA Cup was not just special because it was the prize he dreamt of winning as a child, but because what it symbolised to him.

“The last six months at United, the circumstances, were so difficult,” he reflected a year later.

“That is why the trophy I won, the FA Cup, I consider the biggest trophy in my career.

Mata celebrates with fans after the dramatic win in London

“Going to the absolute climax of the FA Cup final, ending with ten men and having to score to win in extra-time. Having gone through all that, and then walking away with the trophy, was incredible for me.”

It’s rather ironic that Van Gaal’s last act for the club was to embody the trademark United spirit by winning a major prize against all the odds thanks to a wonder goal from an academy graduate only he had really believed in.

However, not even the late fighting spirit or Jesse Lingard’s sumptuous strike was enough to alter his fate, with Mourinho’s presence overshadowing what should have been a day to celebrate only the second FA Cup triumph the club has had in the last 17 years.

Rooney tried to console Van Gaal but could not rouse him as players celebrated the win
(Image: 2016 Manchester United FC)

The fact Van Gaal played the underdog card after beating Alan Pardew’s Palace side indicates just how far United had already fallen in the three years since Ferguson retired, but that win at Wembley played a key part in restoring the winning belief which would see Mourinho lift three trophies over the course of the next year.

“Thank you for the congratulations,” Van Gaal sarcastically jibed journalists as he walked out of the post-match press conference, the last of his managerial career.

He might not have been the right fit for Old Trafford, but he will always argue that he was a winner right until the end.