KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —– The old cliche says a team, the players and the manager are only as good as the next match. In that case tomorrow’s FA Cup Final it could be both good and bad for Louis Van Gaal.
What may prove, last Tuesday, to have been the Dutchman’s last public appearance as Manchester United manager at Old Trafford was not a happy one, even though it followed a 3-1 victory over Bournemouth to wrap up the Red Devil’s Premier League campaign.
The match had been rescheduled after the security alert just before Sunday’s orginal kickoff but victory left United ‘only’ in fifth place and thus again outside the Champions League qualifying slots targeted by both the directors and Van Gaal.
Concern at their lack of attacking perception came back to punish them since United finished behind neighbours Manchester City only on goal difference.
One last chance remains to put a smile on the season when favourites United face Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. Van Gaal pointed that out in his post-match address to fans at Old Trafford on Tuesday night but that was not enough to prevent an outbreak of jeers at the Dutchman.
United’s inferior goal difference meant they were edged down into the Europa League by neighbours and rivals Manchester City. Van Gaal tried to put on a brave face in his address to fans.
He said: “I want to thank you for the unconditional support. Wherever we have played, however things have gone on the field, you never let us down. We will bring the FA Cup home to you. You deserve it. Thank you!”
If United fail to win on Saturday then Van Gaal, with his job prospects already uncertain, appears certain not to return next season. He has only one year remaining on his contract and Jose Mourinho remains in the wings, not saying anything about his own future and not being linked with any other club either.
Whatever the result at Wembley cannot turn around some dire statistics for a club which prides itself on a positive, aggressive style of football. United rank in the bottom of the Premier League for total shots, shots on target and passes in the final third.
Former United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel – father of new champion goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel at Leicester – added fuel to the fire by saying that watching his old side had ‘bored him to death.’
At least Van Gaal resisted the temptation to play a team of reserves against Bournemouth, keeping his main men fresh and safe for Saturday. Morgan Schneiderlin and Marcos Rojo might return after injury and Juan Mata appears a certain starter after being the first player sustituted on Tuesday
Success for Mata would be some consolation for having been omitted from Spain’s squad for the Euro 2016 finals in France.
It’s a big match all round. Van Gaal has won one trophy or another with every major club he has managed. Except Manchester United . . . so far.
However he sought to play down his own position in assessing the final, saying: “I think the interests of the club are much more important, and the interest of the fans is more important, than those of the manager.
“Of course, you have your own aims and that’s one of the aims I have had always, so it’s always exciting when you are so close, but close is not enough. You have to win it. A club like Manchester United needs silverware.
“When you win silverware, it’s important for the players, because a qualification is not a title. A title is the FA Cup or championship, because they can look and hold the trophy, so that’s an exciting moment also. We are playing in the most prestigious temple in England.”
Van Gaal also reiterated that he was more interested in winning than impressing observers with the way United play.
He said: “Close is not enough you have to win it. Now, we can win something. You cannot predict a final, you have seen it with Liverpool in the Europa League for example.
“Our starting point is to win well and score beautiful goals but, if we win 1-0, that is also enough. Winning is the most important thing in a final, otherwise you have nothing.”