LONDON • Jose Mourinho is set to be appointed the new Manchester United manager in the next 48 hours, after agreeing a deal to take over from Louis van Gaal.
The Dutchman won the FA Cup with a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday, and seemed to be under the impression that he would still be in charge next season, but is certain to be replaced by Mourinho.
The Portuguese manager, who left Chelsea in December, turned down an offer from Paris Saint-Germain in the hope that United would come calling - and negotiations took place in the last few days, after United had missed out on fourth place in the Premier League and therefore a Champions League berth.
Mourinho has already agreed his salary and discussed possible transfer targets with the club.
He gave no comment while at David Haye's fight against Arnold Gjergjaj at London's O2 Arena on Saturday, but is likely to be presented as United's new manager once his agent, Jorge Mendes, flies to England from China tomorrow to finalise the finer details of the contract.
United's plan had always been to keep van Gaal in the job for three years before handing over to someone younger, such as Ryan Giggs. However, the lack of progress on the pitch led to the club deciding to end the deal with one year left.
Van Gaal seemed unaware of the news as rumours started to swirl round Wembley on Saturday night, and his final press conference turned into something of a farce. He turned up to speak at Wembley with the trophy in his hands, and placed it on the table.
"I show you the Cup, I don't discuss my future with the media," he said defiantly. "Some of you have had me sacked already."
Reports were still emerging at that point that the club had drawn a line under van Gaal's reign, but the Dutchman was having none if it.
"I don't want to talk about leaving," said van Gaal, who reminded the media that he has now won trophies in four countries, following triumphs in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.
"I am proud that I am the first United manager after Sir Alex Ferguson to win a trophy. I have had a picture taken with Sir Alex, because that is history."
Even before Saturday night's developments, it was common knowledge that United would not be satisfied with just an FA Cup win.
Champions League qualification has always been their main aim and van Gaal could only manage a fifth-place finish. Yet when asked if he had plans for next season, he replied in the affirmative.
"The aim will be the same, we need to improve further and we need to sign new players," he said. "I have said on several occasions I would like a fast winger."
Ironically, it was how he spent £250 million (S$501 million) on new faces - without improving United much - that remains one of the biggest criticisms against him.
If anything, it was perhaps fitting a youngster ensured his reign would end in victory. In a period where superstar signings have flopped, it was the kids who have excelled for United and match-winner Jesse Lingard was one of them.
His intervention as a substitute was reward for van Gaal's faith in youth, having handed 14 academy players their first-team debuts during his time at Old Trafford.
Ten minutes of extra time remained and United were down to 10 men and clinging on a bit, when Antonio Valencia countered, sprinted down the right and hit a low cross. Damien Delaney attempted to clear but the ball popped up to Lingard, whose volley lasered past Wayne Hennessey.
"I saw it come across and it landed nicely for me, all I had to do was hit it sweet and luckily I did that," Lingard said.
Yesterday, van Gaal seemed to finally acknowledge that Lingard's goal was not enough to keep him in his job. When asked by a Sky Sports reporter if he had time to talk, van Gaal replied: "It's over."
Even though it was unclear whether that meant he had been sacked by United yesterday, there remains little doubt that he will leave Old Trafford after two seasons in charge.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN