No matter what happens at Wembley Saturday night, the end of Louis van Gaal’s miserable Manchester United reign must follow.
An expected victory against Crystal Palace during the FA Cup final should not cloud the judgement of the Red Devils’ already questionable decision makers. Further distasteful football and underachievement will follow if the sight of lifting the illustrious trophy for a record-equalling 12th time ensures the final year of his deal, signed in 2014, is seen out.
Only craven and self-serving behaviour from executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has kept the dated Dutch manager in his post ahead of Jose Mourinho this long. The institutional stasis about him means even an unforgivable failure – the bare minimum with £250 million (Dh1.3 billion) spent – to qualify for the 2016/17 Champions League is no guarantee the guillotine will drop this summer.
Instead, Van Gaal should see past a famously inflated ego and look at his first trophy at Old Trafford as the perfect way to salvage what is left of a fading reputation. With a disinclination announced upon arrival to extend his contract, he must take the choice away from United’s bungling chiefs and in time one of the best coaches of the past 25 years will be remembered as such.
Things can only get worse next season. It never goes well for ‘lame duck managers’, a fact even Sir Alex Ferguson can attest to after the damage caused before his retirement U-turn in 2001/02.
Van Gaal’s crimes against the sport in his current post stretch far beyond not winning a spot at European football’s top table next term. He has single-handedly sought to make the title ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ a misnomer.
This season, a league high 3222 backwards passes, a club low of 49 goals scored in the Premier League era and chance creation of 312 which is better than just Watford, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion have been registered. Only insomniacs in the red half of Manchester will celebrate such statistics. His “philosophy” has proven anathema to supporters used to the swashbuckling approach established by Sir Matt Busby. Missing out on the Champions League through goal difference proved fitting for a coach obsessed with nullifying the strengths of opponents rather than unleashing his expensively-assembled charges.
When the sight of clumsy defender Phil Jones taking corners, lightweight midfielder Daley Blind regularly being deployed out of position at centre-back and a shocking wastage of cash summed up by the mismanagement of Argentine playmaker Angel Di Maria are added in, there can be no justifiable case for a continuation.
His duplicitous praise of the supporters’ faith during his end- of-season address on Tuesday and subsequent blasting of expectation levels in the post-match press conference was also inexcusable. Especially in a campaign when lowly Leicester City pulled off a miracle and lifted the top-flight crown.
Even a recent promotion of exciting youngsters Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah seemed to have happened by accident rather than design. You have to raid your youth ranks mid-season if you take the curious decision to trim a squad which will play more matches than 2014/15 because of European qualification and must face up to the unique physical demands of England’s top flight.
Genuine positives are difficult to identity. The wonderful March and April in 2015 which produced dynamic wins against Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City was a joyous break to the regular drudgery and could not be replicated.
Indeed, it seems like another person developed a youthful Ajax team into Champions League winners 21 years ago, won four major trophies at Barcelona, remarkably led AZ Alkmaar to the Eredivisie title, laid the foundations for the incredible Bayern Munich side of today and finished third with the Netherlands at World Cup 2014.
There is ample evidence such success is now beyond the 64-yearold. Enough damage has been done already at United. Lifting the FA Cup will be illusionary rather than a guarantee of a fruitful 2016/17.
Contentment during his Portuguese retirement can only be achieved by immediately stepping aside in the aftermath.
The East Midlands team is currently visiting the football-mad Southeast Asian nation as part of a publicity blitz after its fairytale title triumph.
Day two of the tour focused on Thailand’s top institution with a visit to the sprawling Bangkok palace complex of the revered but ailing 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been hospitalised for most of the last two years.
Local television showed billionaire club-owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, alongside his son Aiyawatt and manager Claudio Ranieri, presenting the trophy to a portrait of the king as they and the team then took a deep bow.
The team later went on an open-top bus parade through the capital’s notoriously gridlocked streets that were briefly cleared of traffic thanks to a police escort.
In scorching conditions — with the mercury hovering around 37C (98F) – key players including captain Wes Morgan and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel waved Thai flags and snapped pictures of each other on their phones as crowds cheered them on.
Vichai’s King Power brand, a duty free monopoly that has made him a billionaire and is emblazoned on both Leicester’s shirts and its stadium, ensured the start of the parade route was filled with employees – including a group of cheerleaders — decked out in team colours.
But thousands of fans and curious bystanders also lined the route, which wound its way from a King Power-owned shopping and hotel complex through Bangkok’s downtown commercial district.
Most Thais knew little about the one-time minnows before Vichai bought the club in 2010.
But many locals are readily changing — or at least doubling-up — their allegiances from perennial English favourites like Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, clubs that are much more commonplace on advertising billboards across the kingdom.
Ben, a 27-year-old worker in a 7/11 store along the parade route, was one of those who stopped to watch the bus pass by.
“I am a fan of Liverpool but I am happy to see football stars from UK,” he told AFP. “It’s not often we can see football stars in Bangkok.”
Photos from the palace visit showed the team kneeling in front of Bhumibol’s portrait.
It has become common practice for subjects to sit on the floor or kneel to avoid being higher than the king.
Thai athletes often present their medals and trophies at the palace as a way to show respect.
Vichai has brought some of the kingdom’s traditions to Leicester City, with Buddhist monks regularly flown out to bless players and the stadium.
During their title celebrations at the King Power stadium, a portrait of Bhumibol was held aloft as players like Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater revelled in their remarkable league success.
King Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving monarch, is the object of an intense personality cult and his frail health is a subject of significant public concern.
He is also protected by one of the world’s most draconian royal defamation laws, making debate about the royal family’s role inside Thailand all but impossible.
Under junta rule in the last two years, use of the lese majeste law has skyrocketed with some transgressors jailed for more than 20 years.
Not all Bangkok’s citizens, many of whom have to endure agonisingly long daily commutes, were happy with the rush hour road closures.
“Do you have to do a parade, isn’t winning enough?” wrote one user of Pantip, a popular Thai social media forum, before adding “God bless Man U”.
Marcus Rashford celebrated his maiden England call-up with a fine strike as Manchester United overcame Bournemouth.
Here, Sport360 takes a look back at the teenager’s stellar debut season.