By Mitch Phillips
(Reuters) - Manchester United sacked manager Louis van Gaal on Monday two days after the Dutchman led them to victory in the FA Cup final, with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho widely expected to be appointed as his successor.
News of Van Gaal's impending departure leaked out minutes after Saturday's 2-1 Wembley victory over Crystal Palace and, following relentless media speculation and a day of negotiations, it was confirmed by both on Monday evening.
"I'd like to thank Louis and his staff for their excellent work in the past two years culminating in winning a record-equalling 12th FA Cup for the club (and securing him a title in four different countries)," executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement on the club website (www.manutd.com).
"He has behaved with great professionalism and dignity throughout his time here. He leaves us with a legacy of having given several young players the confidence to show their ability on the highest stage."
Van Gaal, however, was not so happy to be moving on.
"I am very disappointed to be unable to complete our intended three-year plan," he said. "I believe that the foundations are firmly in place to enable the club to move forward and achieve even greater success."
Former Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid manager Mourinho is expected to be named as Van Gaal's replacement later this week, though the club has yet to confirm a successor to the Dutchman who at least brought them some silverware.
"I am immensely proud to have helped United win the FA Cup for the 12th time in the club's history," said Van Gaal.
"I have been privileged during my management career to have won 20 trophies but winning the FA Cup, which is steeped in so much history, will always be one of the most special achievements of my career.
"I hope that winning the FA Cup will give the club a platform to build upon next season to restore the success that this passionate set of fans desire," he added.
That Cup success, however, could not gloss over a season in which United finished fifth in the standings, missing out on Champions League qualification, and where dull performances had the fans booing their own team even after victories.
The 64-year-old Dutchman signed a three-year contract in May 2014, succeeding David Moyes, who took over from fellow Scot Alex Ferguson for the 2013-14 season and was also sacked after failing to live up to his predecessor's standards.
Van Gaal lifted the club from seventh place in the league under Moyes to fourth in his first season but, despite more lavish spending in the transfer market, the team stagnated and the fans became increasingly disgruntled.
United's inability to produce the free-flowing soccer that characterized Ferguson's trophy-laden reign at Old Trafford has been Van Gaal's biggest failing.
The team's goals per game ratio, especially at home, last season was lower than all their main rivals and they made more backward passes than any other team in the league.
United briefly topped the table at the end of September, but by mid-December had dropped out of the top four after humiliating back-to-back defeats by promoted clubs Bournemouth and Norwich City.
Failing to qualify for the knockout stage of this season's Champions League, after finishing third in their group behind VfL Wolfsburg and PSV Eindhoven, was another damaging blow for Van Gaal.
Losing to arch-rivals Liverpool in the Europa League increased the pressure on the former Ajax Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Netherlands coach.
A late push for a top-four place, the FA Cup run and an impressive record of blooding youngsters earned Van Gaal some wiggle room, but Saturday's Wembley success, their first trophy for three years, was deemed too little, too late.
"It has been an honor to manage such a magnificent club as Manchester United FC, and in doing so, I have fulfilled a long-held ambition," Van Gaal added.
Thank you to the owners and board of Manchester United for giving me the opportunity to manage this great club."
(Editing by Ken Ferris)