Whatever the result, van Gaal must go, says Neil Humphreys
A United cup triumph would paper over cracks, nothing more
CRYSTAL PALACE v MAN UTD
(Tomorrow, 12.30am, Singtel TV Ch 109)
Lazy comparisons are inevitably being made to the 1990 FA Cup Final, when Manchester United also faced Crystal Palace.
But the 1990 triumph marked the beginning of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
The trip to Wembley tomorrow morning (Singapore time) should mark the end of Louis van Gaal.
The result is academic. His relationship with the club is broken beyond repair and his position untenable.
Lee Martin's winner in the 1990 replay lifted the Red Devils out of a monochrome world of drinking clubs and overweight footballers, heavy on talent, but light on discipline, and towards the technicolour dream of Premier League dynasties.
But this final represents a full stop, the end of a failed experiment and a farewell to a bombastic, once-brilliant manager, now out of touch with his surroundings.
Listening to van Gaal speak this week has been a poignant, tragicomic experience, rather like watching a once gifted grandparent struggle to find the right words as the memory fades.
The Dutchman has referred to the FA Cup as a "title", reiterating how much he wants to win a "title" and what a "title" means to United fans.
Each jarring, misuse of the term pounded the ears like nails down a blackboard.
Even giving the Dutchman the benefit of the doubt, that the differences between "title" and "trophy" could be lost in translation, this isn't 1990.
The FA Cup is no longer the height of expectations at United.
For many years, the tournament was an afterthought.
In 2000, the battered bauble was rejected altogether in favour of a ludicrous Club World Championship that was more Mickey Mouse than a Disneyland parade.
The 1999 Treble encapsulated United's pervading mood towards the old pot.
Ferguson worked backwards from the Champions League final in terms of squad selections.
The best were mothballed for the title race and that historic night in the Nou Camp. The rest trotted out in the cup final.
Van Gaal has gamely tried to raise the FA Cup's global currency, recalling how one of his earliest memories was watching Jimmy Greaves win the trophy for Tottenham.
He got the wrong decade and the wrong position, but his heart was in the right place.
But he lost the hearts and minds at Old Trafford a long time ago, apart from vice-chairman Ed Woodward of course, who seems to be under a van Gaal Jedi mind trick whenever the two meet.
It was touch and go for Ferguson until the FA Cup victory, but the nucleus of a title-winning side was already in place.
The central spine of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Paul Ince, Bryan Robson, Brian McClair and Mark Hughes featured in the final and all had integral roles in the early Premier League wins.
Later on, Denis Irwin and Paul Parker filled the defensive gaps, Eric Cantona sprinkled the stardust and Peter Schmeichel dominated between the sticks.
In stark contrast, van Gaal's greatest asset remains a goalkeeper signed by Ferguson. David de Gea's latest club Player of the Year award underlines the extent of United's mediocrity.
Had the Spaniard fulfilled his childhood ambition and joined Real Madrid, United would've accompanied Chelsea in the mid-table wilderness.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are beneficiaries of van Gaal's reluctance to follow the accepted wisdom of management, ignoring the pressure to throw in a couple of untested youngsters.
Everyone else felt constrained by his tactical straitjacket.
Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney, Marouane Fellaini, Jesse Lingard, Ander Herrera, Memphis Depay, Juan Mata, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have all been deployed in unfamiliar positions in strange formations; an erratic 11 of dazed and confused pawns.
After two years and £250 million ($500.3m) in transfers, van Gaal is no closer to a regular first 11, a regular formation or even regular positions.
Every team sheet is a random spin of the bottle in the dressing room.
Even now, with little hesitation, United loyalists can reel off most of the starters from Fergie's three distinct eras - the early Double winners, the Class of '92 and then Ronaldo and Rooney's European titans.
But there's more chance of predicting next week's weather than van Gaal's final line-up.
A Wembley win may provide a welcome antidote after a season that has felt like death by a thousand sideways passes, but it shouldn't be misconstrued as vindication for the Dutchman's conservatism.
Even if his tactical straitjacket ends up strangling the Eagles at Wembley, it no longer fits at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal has a chance to end a wonderful career with an FA Cup winner's medal around his neck and his dignity intact.
But he won't keep both if he stays.
Palace history weighs heavily on Pardew
Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew said he felt the "weight of history" on his shoulders as he tries to lead the south London side to the first major trophy in their 111-year existence.
Palace have the chance to claim that long-awaited piece of silverware when they face Manchester United in tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) FA Cup final at Wembley.
The match is a repeat of the 1990 final when a Palace side featuring then central defender Pardew were beaten by United in a replay after the first match finished 3-3 following extra-time.
"I feel the weight of the history of not winning something," Pardew said yesterday.
"We take one final which we lost into the game, so this group of players have an opportunity to put something permanent there - a first major trophy for Crystal Palace.
"One or two of these players will never play in a final again and this is an opportunity to get a winner's medal, which is so hard.
"Like the Leicester players (who won the Premier League), winning the FA Cup would mean the same for us."
Pardew completed an unwanted "double" in 2006 when he was manager of the West Ham side beaten in that year's FA Cup final by Liverpool.
He has now turned to Steve Coppell and Alan Smith, Palace's manager and assistant manager respectively back in 1990, for advice.
"Steve Coppell was here; I've leant on him in a couple of bits," former Newcastle manager Pardew explained.
"I've spoken to Alan Smith, looked at the history of 1990 and of the history since. (We're) a club with a certain DNA. It would be good for the club and for our history for us to win something.
"(There was a) great camaraderie in that (1990) group. I hope this group has that same ongoing history as we had. We're all very close friends, it bonded us. It made this club to a degree, that cup final.
"Friendships - I'd prefer those friendships to have carried through as winners. That's the message I'll give to my players."
United will start the match as favourites and Pardew was in no doubt all the pressure was on Louis van Gaal's men following their failure to qualify for the Champions League.
"The pressure is on them all the time," Pardew said. "They're Man United: a historic club, the colour, the history, with names we haven't got. (Sir Alex) Ferguson, (George) Best, (Bobby) Charlton, (Eric) Cantona.
"They take a different history into the game.
"(We are) street football - players from different roots, from non-league and Paris St Germain."
"Put those ingredients together and it's quite an exciting blend and an exciting team."- AFP.
- This is only the second time Crystal Palace have reached the FA Cup final and on both occasions Manchester United have been the opponents. In the 1990 final, an under-pressure Alex Ferguson led United to win the replay that launched their Golden era. Tomorrow, Louis van Gaal will face a similar scenario although lifting the trophy, their 12th overall and level with Arsenal's record, may not save his job.
- Alan Pardew, who lost in the cup final as West Ham manager in 2006 as well as losing as a Palace player in 1990, will be hoping to make it third time lucky.
- Palace could gain their first major trophy and secure European qualification for the first time.
- The FA Cup is the one major domestic honour missing from the medal collections of United stalwarts Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick.
- The only player in United's ranks to have won the FA Cup is Juan Mata - with Chelsea in 2012. Palace's only FA Cup winner is James McArthur, who played in Wigan's victory over Manchester City in 2013.
- Marcus Rashford could cap off a week which saw him named in England's provisional squad for Euro 2016 by becoming the second youngest scorer ever in an FA Cup final, just 86 days after his debut.
- United are playing their first FA Cup final since 2007. It's their 19th FA Cup final appearance, equal with all-time record holders Arsenal.