MANCHESTER, England — Parting gift or job-saver?
Even a victory for Manchester United in the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace on Saturday might not be enough for Louis van Gaal to stay on as manager at Old Trafford.
United’s failure to finish in the top four of the Premier League — and therefore miss out on qualifying for the Champions League — left Van Gaal in danger of being fired after two underwhelming years in charge.
Despite not achieving the club’s primary target this season, the Dutchman is convinced he will be allowed to see out his three-year contract.
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United’s board might have other ideas — with or without a first FA Cup since 2004 in the trophy cabinet.
"I think the interest of the club and the interest of the fans is more important than the manager," Van Gaal said Thursday when asked about the significance of the game to his future. "Of course, you have your own aims and that’s one of the aims I have always had."
For a self-confident coach who has collected silverware at every storied club he has managed — Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich — it would be a blow to Van Gaal’s ego if he did leave United without winning a trophy.
United hasn’t captured a title since Alex Ferguson delivered the 38th major trophy of his 27-year United reign, in winning the Premier League in 2013 in his last season before retirement.
David Moyes, Ferguson’s successor, fell short in his 10 months in charge. Van Gaal might have one more game to break his drought, and suggested that having something tangible to celebrate would be more special to his players than qualifying for the Champions League.
"Qualification is not a title — a title is the FA Cup, is the (league) championship," Van Gaal said. "For players, it’s very important. They can look and hold the cup. That’s an exciting moment."
The match is a repeat of 1990 final, which United won after a replay following a 3-3 draw in the first match. That result gave Ferguson some breathing space after a disappointing first four years at United, and he went on to become the club’s most successful manager.
"I remember Sir Alex’s career hinged on that game," said Palace manager Alan Pardew, who played for the London club in the 1990 final, "and maybe LVG’s career will hinge on this."
Palace has reached its first cup final since 1990, giving the club another chance to win a first major trophy. The FA Cup has saved Palace’s season after the team unraveled in the second half of its league campaign to finish five points clear of the relegation zone.
United is the clear favourite.
"I think the pressure is on them all the time, because it’s Manchester United and it’s a historical club with a historical history, that we haven’t got," Pardew said. "The history we take into the game is a final that we lost. This team, this group of players, has an opportunity to put something permanent there — a first major trophy for Crystal Palace."
Palace will be without Joe Ledley because of a broken leg, although Pardew said Thursday the Wales midfielder could return in time for the European Championship.
United has midfielder Marouane Fellaini back from suspension, and defenders Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo back from injury.
United is bidding to win a record-tying 12th FA Cup title, matching Arsenal’s haul.