Manchester: Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal expressed confidence that he will still be at Old Trafford next season despite his team crawling to an underwhelming fifth-place finish in the Premier League.
United beat Bournemouth 3-1 in their final fixture on Tuesday — a game held over from Sunday due to a bomb scare — but it was not enough to take them into the Champions League places as they finished below fourth-place Manchester City on goal difference.
United must now beat Crystal Palace in Saturday’s FA Cup final to salvage something from their season and there were ripples of dissent towards Van Gaal in the form of boos as he began a post-match address to a thin home crowd.
But despite persistent speculation linking Jose Mourinho with his job, when asked if he would still be in place on the first day of next season, Van Gaal, who took over at United in 2014, replied: “Yes. Because I have signed a three-year contract.”
Fears that supporters would stay away following Sunday’s postponement, which followed the discovery of a fake bomb left by accident in a toilet cubicle during a training exercise, were realised.
While United did not officially announce the attendance, the stadium appeared around two-thirds full.
Van Gaal, however, used his post-game speech to praise United’s fans for their “unconditional” support and claimed afterwards that the stadium was only not full because overseas supporters had been unable to make the trip.
Referring to his speech, he said: “I have said that also with very much conscience. In spite of the fact we have not always played very well, they have supported the players on the pitch always.
“However things have gone on the pitch, they never let us down and they always have come, 75,000, always. Not today, but why do you think?
“We have a lot of fans out of Asia. They are coming, 24 hours flying, and back. They couldn’t see the match and that’s why.”
Van Gaal conceded that United’s fifth-place finish represented a “step back”, but said that Leicester City’s title triumph proved that anyone could win the title next season.
– ‘Irritation’ -Needing a 19-goal win to pip City to fourth place, United had to wait until the 43rd minute to go ahead as Marcus Rashford dummied Anthony Martial’s pass for skipper Wayne Rooney to tuck away his 100th league goal at Old Trafford.
Rashford, named in England’s provisional Euro 2016 squad on Monday, made it 2-0 by thrashing home from Antonio Valencia’s knockdown and Rooney then freed substitute Ashley Young to add a third.
But in stoppage time Chris Smalling sliced Max Gradel’s shot into his own net to gift Bournemouth a goal that prevented David de Gea from earning a share of the Golden Glove — awarded to the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets — with Arsenal’s Petr Cech.
Van Gaal described the goal as “an irritation”.
United finished the campaign with just 49 league goals to their name — their worst tally since 1989-90 — and despite decrying perceived poor fortune with penalties, Van Gaal could not disguise his team’s attacking shortcomings.
“Defensively we are one of the best teams in the Premier League, but attacking-wise we have to improve,” he said.
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe confirmed that his club had rejected offers from West Ham United for midfielder Matt Ritchie and Callum Wilson on the eve of the game, and expressed annoyance over the timing of the bids.
“We had a bid yesterday (Monday) evening,” said Howe, whose side finished their first ever top-flight campaign in 16th place.
“The disappointing thing is why the bid has come in a day before our last game of the season. Two players who were due to play and a lot of speculation about their future… It was bizarre, from this club’s perspective.
“The bid was rejected and we don’t need to sell. We want to improve our squad, not weaken it.”