The pre-match debate was whether top four or a trophy is more important in modern football. Now, with Manchester United guaranteed to go two years without silverware for the first time since 1989, you only have to look at the faces of their distraught fans to know the answer, writes Chris Hatherall.
United’s season unravelled in the wake of an FA Cup defeat against Arsenal, a red card for Angel Di Maria, a terrible backpass from Antonio Valencia and a frantic atmosphere which saw the Gunners win at Old Trafford for the first time in 11 visits and nearly nine years.
So what to make now of Louis van Gaal’s pre-match comments that reaching next year’s Champions League was more important than lifting a trophy?
The Dutchman clearly didn’t have his finger on the pulse of a club that has been about nothing else than winning leagues and cups for the last three decades; and whatever happens in the league now he may well be judged on that mistake.
It has been one of the most depressing side effects of the Champions League that the FA Cup has dwindled in stature under the weight of commercialisation of the game; but make no mistake this result was hugely important to both sets of fans and to the long-term future of the teams they support.
Republic and United legend Roy Keane, who won 17 trophies during his time at Old Trafford, including four FA Cups, called it right. “People are obsessed with getting in to the top four, but you also need to win trophies,” was his reminder, a gentle one by his standards but nevertheless a poignant one given his understanding of the club’s history.
So does van Gaal understand that history? Already he has dismissed United supporters’ pleas to ‘attack, attack, attack’ and moved away from the exciting wing play that has defined the club over so many years.
Now he may well start to feel the kind of pressure that engulfed Arsene Wenger before his side finally broke their trophy drought by lifting this trophy at Wembley last season. The Frenchman admits he was guilty of ‘sacrificing’ the FA Cup at times during that barren spell, bowing to the financial pressure to qualify for Europe at all costs.
It’s a policy that has changed in the last two years and now Arsenal, having won the trophy against Hull last season, have every chance of defending it in 2015 following this historic and deserved victory at a ground where they have failed so often in recent times.
The winning goal from former Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck – a player that van Gaal decided to sell despite the player’s long history at the club – was poignant too.
“You couldn’t say Arsenal didn’t deserve it,” admitted Keane. “It was shocking defending for the winning goal from United, too. Maybe the keeper should have sacrificed himself for the team and brought Danny Welbeck down.”
The home side did end the match with 10 men, however, when Di Maria stupidly pushed referee Michael Oliver. It was a moment that killed United’s trophy dream for a second season in a row and an incident which suggests something is still wrong at Old Trafford even if the Champions League remains a possibility.
Perhaps the last word should go to Keane, however, who feels it is not yet time to think about van Gaal’s future.
“You have to give the man a chance, he’s been in the job a few minutes,” he said. ” It’s a rebuilding job. They should have given David Moyes more time and they didn’t. So give the man a chance to rebuild.
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