Man United handle Louis van Gaal situation badly, Barca's gritty cup win

The Louis van Gaal era at Old Trafford is now over -- Manchester United confirmed his departure on Monday evening -- and it will leave a bitter taste, and not just because of the poor results and poorer performance on the pitch.

There's a classy, clever way to handle succession and there's a ham-fisted way. Two years ago, when David Moyes was dispatched, Manchester United were pilloried because the former Everton boss found out via the media. It left him humiliated, and regardless of what you think of Moyes, nobody deserves that.

This time was supposed to be different. This time they would do it right, only it didn't happen that way. According to multiple reports, Van Gaal found out on Saturday, moments after the FA Cup win. His wife had told him after she read it on the BBC website.

We don't know what Van Gaal did next, whether he tracked down Ed Woodward and asked him if it was true or not. What we do know is that they waited at least another 48 hours without yet making it official, even though by that point Van Gaal would have had to have locked himself into a sensory deprivation chamber not to realize he was done.
Van Gaal hasn't been the best manager at Man United, but the club have handled his transition poorly.
Could United have handled this differently? Yes. They could have told him before the final that this was his last game. Guess what? Van Gaal is a big boy. He could have taken it. And he would have gone out and been professional about it. Better yet, they could have done the logical thing and sacked him back in January when Jose Mourinho had his nose pressed outside Woodward's window at Old Trafford. As of right now, we don't know for certain that Mourinho will be United's next manager, but assuming he is, it would have made a heck of a lot more sense.

I wrote this back in May 2014 when Van Gaal was appointed. His career had been about massive highs and dreadful lows, with a ton of rows along the way. You could see it was going to turn out one of two ways.

Hiring Van Gaal was a mistake and these are two lost seasons, but at least United have moved on now. And there will be plenty of time to debate his successor.

Less savoury, though were the stories that inundated the media about Van Gaal's methods and how they were ultimately his undoing. Versions of these anecdotes are in every paper. When stuff like this happens, it's a sign that there are folks out there who were dying to trash Van Gaal but only felt comfortable doing so once he was safely out of the picture.

You don't blame the media for reporting them; that's their job. But you do wonder about certain folks talking about certain things at a certain time, almost as if to justify a decision. Some of the stuff out there wasn't new, some of it had been around in rumor form for a while and some of it must have been delivered to the media in the past 48 hours. It doesn't reflect well on anyone.

And what of the players? They are professionals, paid to do this for a living. And guess what? Other than a couple of them, most haven't actually achieved anything of note (for club or country) in their careers. But they can't handle their manager calling them out and showing them what they did wrong in front of their teammates? It hurts their feelings?

It's the players -- at least those who were so upset by Van Gaal -- who don't come out looking good in this. They're the same guys who, in those same stories, complain about doing double training sessions in preseason and having a regimented schedule while on tour. Imagine having to train twice a day (up to four hours!) when you're a professional athlete and you're getting ready for the upcoming season. Or imagine having a schedule ("from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.") when you're on tour -- in other words, when you're on a business trip.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize Van Gaal for these past two years, but some of the stuff that has come out in the last 48 hours has been over the top. And, ironically, it makes some of the players themselves look bad.

Van Gaal leaves with the FA Cup
The ESPN FC crew note that when the going got tough for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final, they came together as one unit.

With Saturday's 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, Van Gaal leaves the job with the FA Cup and Manchester United avoid three consecutive seasons without a trophy, a run that would have taken you all the way back to the pre-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

It wasn't an undeserved victory (Manchester United hit the woodwork twice), but it could just as easily gone the other way if Joel Ward didn't get his feet tangled up on Juan Mata's equalizer, bundling the ball into the back of the net. Or, indeed, if referee Mark Clattenburg had not arbitrarily decided that he didn't fancy playing advantage at critical moments.

You take the positives of the 2-1 victory, the most obvious being Wayne Rooney's performance in midfield. The run that set up Mata's equalizer turned back the clock to when the captain was a bundle of strength, energy and creativity. His passing from the middle of the park was sharp and accurate, though I'm still not convinced his future lies in central midfield. It's one thing to shine against a Palace team that sits way back and looks to hit on the counter. In those situations, you get space and time: eluding the pressing action of one Connor Wickham is not particularly difficult, especially when you have a guy like Michael Carrick alongside you.

The challenge will come against more aggressive teams that don't concede the midfield. Will Rooney have the nous to sit so deep and not either get overrun or be forced to commit endless tactical fouls? And, in fact, given the imminent change of manager, is it something Manchester United's new boss will even want to pursue?

There is little question that Rooney has to evolve now that he's older, and it's a credit to him that he's willing to try new roles (and risk embarrassment). The trick is figuring out where his future lies. Until recently, I would have suggested some kind of second striker/in the hole position. Now, I really don't know, especially given the wealth of alternatives in that very role.
Barcelona battle to Copa del Rey title
ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti looks at Juventus' Coppa Italia win and how it bodes for the table of the next Serie A season.

Barcelona ended the season with a distinctively un-Barca performance against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey. It shouldn't have been this way; it should have been Sevilla psychologically drained after the exertions in the Europa League in midweek. But Unai Emery deployed Ever Banega deeper to cue the Sevilla counters and Javier Mascherano was caught out by Kevin Gameiro and sent off after 36 minutes. The tide shifted, and things got worse for Barca when Luis Suarez limped off 10 minutes or so into the second half.

Luis Enrique's crew were forced on to the back foot, and truth be told, they defended very well, particularly Gerard Pique. You can say it's not rocket science (you're a man down, you hang on) but it's something Barcelona simply aren't used to doing, and while they were clearly out of their comfort zone, they held tight and waited for the moment to pounce.

Banega's own red levelled the numbers and then it became a question of waiting for the more talented players to turn on the light. Lionel Messi obliged with the sweetest of passes for the onrushing Jordi Alba, who slotted it home. Neymar then made it 2-0 and that was that.

Luis Enrique has now won five of six major trophies in two seasons. Barcelona showed they can do it a different way too. They won't be in Milan for the Champions League final next week, but they can certainly argue that, if they were, they'd be favorites.

Juve will miss Morata
ESPN FC's Shaka Hislop breaks down the DFB Pokal final where Bayern toppled Dortmund after a scoreless game went to PK's.
Juventus completed a back-to-back Serie A/Coppa Italia Double after defeating Milan 1-0 on Saturday. (Brief digression: this season, we've seen League-Cup Doubles in Spain, France, Italy and Germany and the exact same thing, with the exact same teams, happened last year too. Everyone OK with that? Seem normal to you?)

The funny thing is it was one of the bianconeri's least impressive performances of the season and a lot of it had to do with Milan and Christian Brocchi. Yeah, that's right. Maybe Brocchi's tirade about pride and being worthy of the shirt actually did some good ... or maybe it was Silvio Berlusconi's crack about not paying them. Either way, Milan showed both tactical nous and the fight and intensity that had been AWOL so many times this year.

It was also nice to see some youth in this team. Take Cristian Zapata (out of contract next month) out of the mix and the back five, including goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma, had an average age of 20. What Milan lacked perhaps was the individual quality to capitalize (Jack Bonaventura and Keisuka Honda played well, but they are what they are), but they at least showed they have a pulse. With the rossoneri still stuck in a cloud of uncertainty, both in terms of the manager and the ownership, at least it's something on which to build.

As for Juve, the difference-maker again was Alvaro Morata. The Spanish striker doesn't have gaudy numbers (he notched 12 goals this season, sharing playing time with Mario Mandzukic), but he's 23, gifted, athletic and a workhorse. He's very much a commodity and the bad news is Juve are likely to lose him.

When they signed him from Real for €20 million ($22.4m) two years ago, the Spanish club inserted a buyback clause. Based on the number of games played by Morata, they could get him back for between $22.4m and $33.6m either in 2016 or 2017. Morata has played plenty, though often as a sub, so the price will be $33.6m.

Given that he's worth considerably more than that (likely in the $60m range), it's basically free money for Real Madrid. They can either keep him as an alternative to Karim Benzema (or leverage to get another striker) or sell him on this summer for an instant profit in the double-digit millions.
Guardiola's emotional German Cup win
The ESPN FC crew discuss the manner in which Van Gaal was let go from Man Utd. and how soon a replacement will be announced.
In some ways, the German Cup final provided plenty of ammo to Pep Guardiola's critics. Bayern had 70 percent possession but the most dangerous chances fell to the opposition, none more so than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's awful miss minutes from time. Thomas Tuchel's back three was devastating on the break, with Henrikh Mkhtaryan directing traffic and dishing assists like Showtime-era Magic Johnson.

Bayern weathered the storm, peppered Roman Burki's goal and it eventually went to penalties. Josh Kimmich and Sven Bender both took horrendous spot kicks but in the end, it was Bayern who prevailed as Sokratis Papasthatopoulos sent his off the woodwork.

Chalk it up to intangibles, like that whole "winning mentality" thing. It's Guardiola's second German Cup to go with his three Bundesliga titles, and as far as three-season hauls are concerned, it's not a bad return. The debate over whether he is a "success" or a "failure" is a tired one; besides, I've written about it before. But anyone who saw his emotional reaction at the end or the way Phillipp Lahm handed him the trophy to lift will realize he's leaving a lot behind at the Sabenerstrasse.
How will PSG ever replace Ibrahimovic?

A week ago, Zlatan Ibrahimovic said goodbye to the Parc des Princes. On Saturday, he and PSG moved up the road to the Stade de France to take on Olympique Marseille in the French Cup final. It finished 4-2, with Zlatan scoring twice and dishing out an assist. No surprise there, then.

For Laurent Blanc, it's his second consecutive domestic Treble. In his three seasons as PSG boss, he has won eight of the nine trophies PSG have entered on French soil and reached three consecutive Champions League quarterfinals. Not bad for a guy who seemed to be 10th choice when he got the job back in 2013.

As for Ibrahimovic, PSG have been linked in the media with Gonzalo Higuain as a possible replacement, though the club are big on reminding everyone they still have one Edinson Cavani around. Either (or both) might conceivably replace Ibrahimovic's offensive output. Neither will be able to replace his stardust or his icon status nor, frankly, is there anybody else at PSG who comes close.

Does it matter?
In a strict footballing sense, no. But from a commercial and media perspective, it probably does. It's a reflection of the modern game. The PSG brand isn't enough; you need the commercial and glamour oomph as well. And there aren't many who come close to Zlatan in that department.
Source: ESPN

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