Manchester United's Premier League season is (finally) over, and there's only the FA Cup standing between the entire world and finding out whether Louis van Gaal is getting the boot this summer. Jose Mourinho insists he doesn't know. Van Gaal says he's staying, but... well, he would. Ed Woodward is busy trying to figure out how fax machines work, so we're not getting an answer out of him any time soon.
And so...speculation. Significantly less of the guff surrounding the Dutchman would be happening if the vast majority of the English press didn't appear to despise the man, but there's something to be said there about making beds and lying in them.
United have proven themselves more or less immune to the media pressure surrounding their managerial situation thus far, in a move as surprising as it is commendable. If it's just results and potential that Van Gaal's being judged on, then, Saturday's FA Cup final is everything.
A big complaint among United fans since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure is that they've become 'just another club'. While that's true to an extent, the rise of Chelsea and City meant that United stopped being The Club a solid decade ago. There's still been a definite decline in the last three years, due in part to Ferguson leaving behind a squad on their last legs - but that's a case to be made in another column. This one, for example. Or this one.
The plain fact is that it's been three years since United won a major trophy and - Van Gaal's fault or not - that's the kind of run that'll cause boards and fans to get more than a bit twitchy. Even without Champions League football, a nice shiny FA Cup pot would go some way to soothing some of the discontent around Old Trafford.
Can they do it? Well, obviously. It's Crystal Palace, for crying out loud. Crystal Palace who have won just two Premier League matches since Christmas. Crystal Palace who squeaked past half-strength or out of form teams to reach this point. Crystal Palace who - once again - are Crystal Palace.
In a way, it's perfect for Van Gaal - a clear, relatively easy path to his first trophy at the club and something to take to press conferences and chase Neil Custis around the room with. But he's going to have precious little defence when Custis picks up a rolled up fixture list showing that United's path to the trophy would have seen them beat just one team in the Premier League's top half - and none in the top six.
United's rivals at the top of the table largely fell out of the FA Cup because they didn't really care. They had other things going on. The fact that only one semi-finalist (United) finished in the top half of the Premier League this season speaks to the quality of the competition this season.
That's not to say that the competition is worthless, but you'd have to imagine that marching to semi-final and final victories over Arsenal and Manchester City would carry significantly more weight than beating Everton and Palace.
So, will victory save Van Gaal? It may not need to. For all that they've apparently been courting Jose Mourinho, they do seem to be taking the long view of things behind the scenes. United may be 'just another club' now, but they appear to be one of the few remaining who have the will and the stones to stick with their decisions in the face of a force nine media gale throwing all matter of fecal matter at them.
Van Gaal has been hamstrung (ahem) by injuries all season, to the point where it was almost a running joke. Any side handed an injury list which leads to half a dozen players being called up from the youth team will struggle - and it's hard to argue that United wouldn't have picked up the single extra point needed for Champions League qualification if they'd been a little less catastrophically unfortunate.
Between that and Van Gaal's underrated faith in the club's young players, he's laying down about as good a base as possible for his successor whether he leaves this summer or next.
With that in place, the FA Cup is almost immaterial. It'd be nice though, wouldn't it?
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