It has all come too late for Louis van Gaal.
The proud Dutchman will naturally boast about his side’s impressive victory over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon, and he'll also point to the fact he still has another year remaining on his contract.
But the truth is he is biding his time at Manchester United until he is asked to clear his desk and retire to his Portuguese villa.
The wounds and scars he has inflicted on United are too deep, the football too turgid and the humiliations too raw for him to get a late reprieve.
A surge into the top four and an FA Cup triumph would make a parting of the ways a little more awkward, but the Van Gaal era is entering its final months.
If Bayern Munich could show Jupp Heynckes the door for winning the treble of the Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB-Pokal in 2012/13, Manchester United should not worry about replacing the disappointing and trophyless Van Gaal this summer.
The derby win—and any remaining successes—should be seen as a parting gift to the club that expected so much more from the Dutchman.
If Van Gaal’s successor were watching United’s 1-0 win at the Etihad—and a recent well-sourced report in El Pais (via the Guardian) suggested it will be Jose Mourinho—he would not have been able to stop a wide smile covering his face.
There is a pool of talent emerging at United that—with the right nurturing, coaching and new signings—could quickly challenge for the title.
Any manager in world football would relish working with such an exciting and quick front three as Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.
A year ago, not one of those players was anywhere near the United starting lineup: Lingard was on loan at Derby County, Rashford was hidden away in the club's youth ranks and Martial was starting to impress with AS Monaco.
But they were all at the Etihad on Sunday, slicing their way through the experienced Manchester City defence and getting the best of England’s last remaining team in the Champions League.
Van Gaal should be praised for giving them all their United debuts, but it will be another manager who enjoys the full benefit of their growing talents.
Rashford’s goal was the 100th scored in the Premier League under Van Gaal, but over the course of 68 games, that is a poor return.
These young players need a manager to devise a plan to vastly improve this scoring rate and get the best out of them.
Amid the gloom of this season, Martial and Rashford especially have emerged as beacons of hope and optimism for the immediate future.
Any new United manager will likely base his attacking plans around this pair.
The only decision to be made is who should play down the centre and who should play out wide. It is a rather nice dilemma to stew over.
Both possess pace. Real pace—the type that immediately unsettles defenders and allows them to glide effortlessly past anyone who dares to stand in their way.
It was in evidence again against Manchester City, when Martial constantly left light-blue shirts in his trail and Rashford won the game by skipping past Martin Demichelis and expertly stroking the ball past Joe Hart in the City goal.
Yes, he's still 18, but that pace, hunger and confidence cannot be easily ignored. And at this moment, he has made himself a certain starter.
When discussing young and exciting talent, the name of Memphis Depay should not be forgotten.
The Dutch winger has endured a difficult first season in the Premier League and was an unused substitute again on Sunday, as he was in the 1-1 draw against Liverpool in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
But he possesses all the same qualities as Martial and Rashford, including pace and probably even more tricks. But he has had his confidence diminished by Van Gaal, the paternal figure who it was hoped would draw the best from him.
With the right guidance and infused with new belief, United have another potentially world-class talent in Memphis waiting to show what he can do at Old Trafford.
Per Sky Sports, Van Gaal claimed defeat at the Etihad would spell the end of United’s ambitions of qualifying for next season's UEFA Champions League. Victory kept their hopes alive, and they go into the international break just one point from the top four.
If United are to tap into the attacking spirit of their victory over City and go on to secure a place in the top four, there will still almost certainly be a new manager taking them into Europe next season.
The first names this manager should write on his teamsheet are Rashford and Martial.
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