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The Last Ever

On Sunday May 22, Ralf Rangnick will likely take charge of his final game as interim manager of Manchester United. The arrival of Eric Ten Hag from Ajax means that his six-month spell in the top seat will come to an end at the final whistle at Selhurst Park.

Remarkably, the same opponents he faced in his first game. The success or otherwise of his tenure is likely to be discussed in depth elsewhere. The personnel involved in the game, key moments, possible controversy, and the final result will be known in time.

Instead, I will be examining the final games of the managers in the modern era. And particularly the full-time managers. I’ll discount the short spells in charge of both Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick. The final game for the managers in question often ended in very different ways.

Those who bowed out after an incredible reign in charge and those shunted out after a couple of months. Some games saw a goal frenzy while more were decidedly drab. And more were just painful. Here we go….

19/05/13: West Bromwich Albion 5-5 Manchester United
The legendary managerial reign ended in a frantic, wild and chaotic fashion. Given that the side had recently become champions of England for the 20th time, it seemed remarkable that the season came to an end in such a way. And especially as it was the last game under their most success-filled period of history under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson.

And yet given some of the personalities involved in the Reds line-up, it should not be especially surprising in retrospect. The star players who had been at the heart of much of the silverware coming back to the club were coming to the end of their careers. And many of the signings in that latter period were not of the standard to maintain league title campaigns into the future. But even this mixture should have been able to hang on to secure yet another win for the boss.

At a packed Hawthorns, containing plenty of Reds fans, the side raced into a three-nil lead within half an hour. Shinji Kagawa, Alexander Buttner (see what I mean), and Jonas Olsson putting them in charge. James Morrisson and Romelu Lukaku gave the home side hope on either side of the break.

The away side were not finished and soon regained their three-goal lead. Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez both finished off team moves to seemingly put it to rest. This did not factor in the defence and keeper having a collective meltdown. Lukaku netted his second from a ball through the backline and Youssouf Mulumbu was allowed to walk through to get it back to a single goal.

The Red Devils were staggering now and amazingly Lukaku was left unmarked to complete his hat-trick. He then missed a chance to seal a win. Such an end did not bode well for the future…

20/04/14: Everton 2-0 Manchester United
The so-called ‘chosen one’, the man handed the keys to Old Trafford from Ferguson himself, David Moyes. Handed a six-year contract upon joining the club, and he lasted barely nine months. It did not go to plan at all.

Senior players reacted against his training methods and tactics, he replaced trusted and respected coaching staff, the club changed their CEO, necessary signings did not arrive and those who did generally underwhelmed. In a season,
of almost constant lows, it was not a shock when his spell in charge was cut short. As defending champions, there was a certain level of expectations as to what the club was able to achieve. It fell far short on pretty much every level.

Experiencing home defeats to the likes of West Brom and Newcastle, early exits from the FA Cup and a semi-final loss to Sunderland in the League Cup all led fans and the press to turn against him. With a Champions League exit and the club in danger of not qualifying for the next season, he tethered on the brink.

It was a damaging experience to have it be at the club he had led to FA Cup finals and Champions League qualification. They needed to get a good start, but a penalty from Leighton Baines put them on the back-foot. Tough given that he had failed to
sign Baines during the summer.

It got worse as Kevin Mirallas made it two before the break. United had enough of the ball but were unable to carve out any real chances of note against the confident hosts. Indeed, it was more likely that Everton were going to add to their lead with opportunities spurned.

The home fans were eager to rub salt into Moyes’ wounds with jeers of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’. At the time they were challenging to qualify for the Champions League places with Arsenal. They may have lost out with the latter, but United bit the bullet and sacked him days later.

21/05/2016: Crystal Palace 1-2 Manchester United
This win, and this Cup campaign, is probably bitter-sweet for all concerned. It was ultimately successful and resulted in United’s last FA Cup win. It was also an open secret that it was going to be the last game in charge for Louis Van Gaal. And his reign is also frustrating in a way.

He was a larger-than-life character who was generally good for a quote in the press conferences. Many young talents were brought to the fore in line with the traditions of the club. Some were better prepared than others mind you. Champions League football
returned to Old Trafford after failing to qualify for Europe altogether.

But he had plenty of failings also. Results were erratic at spells during his first season but did well enough to get top four. Many big-name players arrived in his time that he never seemed to be happy with and underperformed, he had issues with the top brass because he demanded complete control and many of the games were painful to watch.

Read more: Erik ten Hag to be unveiled by Man Utd following Crystal Palace clash

Those of us who watched a run of games at Old Trafford should be compensated for sitting through continuous side-way passing and almost no shots on target. Reaching a final seemed to have saved his career but missing out on the Champions League brought further questions.

The final against Palace was generally pretty cagey as neither side wanted to give anything away. Most of the pressure was on United to deliver the silverware. The underdogs took the lead as substitute Jason Puncheon slotted home from close range with about a quarter of an hour to go. Cue that idiotic dance celebration from Alan Pardew. He looked more of a div when Juan Mata volleyed home within a few minutes.

They could not be separated at full-time, so it went into extra-time. The eagles looked to have gained the advantage again when Chris Smalling got himself sent off. Even then, we refused to give in. Jesse Lingard swept home after it was only partially cleared. Despite late pressure, United hung on to win for the twelfth time. He was officially gone two days later though.

18/12/2018: Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United
It always seemed to be a case of the right manager at the wrong time. Much of the talk circulated around him taking over from Alex Ferguson rather than David Moyes. He would have had the personality and winning mentality which was needed to convince a seasoned dressing room.

For whatever reason, they decided to go on another path. By the time he arrived at Old Trafford, there was a feeling he had been damaged by dressing room fallouts at Real Madrid and Chelsea. But he had the backing of supporters and plenty of signings to
start him off. Bringing in the real (quit laughing) treble in his first season had many fans excited about a real title bid.

The club did manage its highest finish since Ferguson, but that second place was extremely misleading. Manchester City pissed the league by nearly twenty points. We just about held on to finish in that place thanks to other clubs around us being horribly inconsistent. Given the wealth of attacking talent we had at our disposal, we were remarkably cautious in our
play.

The emphasis seemed to be more on stopping opponents rather than unleashing our natural attacking inclinations. Timid exits to Seville in the Champions League did little to satiate our sense of unease. Especially given his excuses after the match. He argued
constantly with the board over his need for recruitments during the summer, without building up the development of the existing squad.

By the time this game came around, he had fallen out with many of his squad, kept making excuses and distancing himself from the fans. Liverpool were flying high at the time, but we had a decent record against them for a couple of seasons before that. And it was a fixture that United fans expect us to put up a decent fight in. From the very start, the attitude was way off. The approach seemed to be more on making the home side settled due to our physicality instead of trying to actually create anything of note.

It seemed to be paying dividends as Jesse Lingard took advantage of a mistake by Alisson to tap home an equaliser just before half-time. Fans may have thought that we might have gone for the jugular in the second half but no. We sat further back and
invited more pressure upon us.

A brace of deflected Xherdan Shaqiri goals gave them a deserved win in the end. Jose sulked, Pogba remained benched, Martial came on too late and that was the end.

20/11/2021: Watford 4-1 Manchester United
This one hurt. And it hurts still to this day. Primarily due to who the man was. A legend as a player, recognised for his coaching at the underage level and the manager who made us dream again.

Having originally arrived as an interim manager, he did the unlikely and actually got us playing again. That incredible run of form at the start of his career convinced us and the board to hire him on a full-term basis. There were plenty of detractors in the media and amongst sections of the fan-base (okay, fancam pricks) who wanted a more glamourous appointment instead.

They pointed at his lack of trophies outside of Norway and an ill-fated spell at Cardiff while we brought up his adherence to values that the club should pride itself on. The form fell away by the end of the season, but he knew that a rebuild was necessary. Too many high earners at the club who were not performing. Curiously, we begun with one of the worse home records combined with one of the best away records.

The Reds regaining that never say die capacity to come back to win from deficits with plenty of late goals to boot. Steadily their home form improved and we began to move up the table and make those around us look increasingly jittery. A trio of wins over Villa, Burnley and Fulham actually put us top of the table. For the first time in quite a while at that point in the season. That was as good as it got though.

Frustrating dropped points left us staring in the distance as Man City went on a crushing run. Protests at Old Trafford over proposed entry into the European Super League and the Glazer rule postponed a game against Liverpool as fans had their say on affairs. A wobble threatened second spot, but we eventually secured it. Defeat by Villareal in the Europa League cast a shadow over the campaign though.

And that hung over the club coming into this season. Despite a strong start, and the arrival of star players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho, the wheels soon fell off. Issues off the field associated with a pre-season arrest for Harry Maguire, a court case for Mason Greenwood, the hangover of England’s loss to Italy and the EL loss all contributed to a shocking decline in form and results. A home loss to Villa was bad but worse was to follow.

Shocking losses to Leicester, Liverpool and City all followed and the club seemed dazed. Watford were lying in the relegation zone but we looked like a beaten side. De Gea was forced to save an early penalty after Scott McTominay gave away a clumsy tackle. It did us no good.

Josh King gave them the lead shortly after and Ismaila Saar made it two before the break. Donny van de Beek gave us some hope, but all of that vanished upon Maguire getting sent off. In the closing minutes, Joao Pedro and Emanuel Dennis added two more. He left by mutual consent the next day. Let’s hope it is a long, long, long, long time before we have to read about Ten Hag’s final game!

More Stories David Moyes Erik ten Hag José Mourinho Louis van Gaal Manchester United Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Premier League Ralf Rangnick

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