London, United Kingdom | AFP
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was unwilling to discuss the likely effect of FA Cup success on his future after his side edged Everton 2-1 to reach the final.
Van Gaal has been under pressure all season, owing to disappointing results in the Premier League and Champions League, but he is now within one victory of steering United to a first FA Cup success since 2004 after Anthony Martial’s 93rd-minute winner at Wembley on Saturday.
With Jose Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino repeatedly touted as potential successors, Van Gaal’s future remains the subject of speculation and when asked about the potential impact of an FA Cup triumph on his youthful team, he took the question personally.
“I’m not looking beyond the FA Cup because we live in the present and for the future, I discuss that with my board and not with you,” said the Dutchman, whose side will face either Watford or Crystal Palace in the final on May 21.
United currently trail Arsenal by four points in the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League, which will yield a Champions League berth, and Van Gaal would not be drawn when asked if FA Cup glory alone would represent a successful season.
“It’s not for me to judge. It’s for the board of Manchester United,” he told his post-match press conference.
United subjected Everton to sustained first-half pressure and took a 34th-minute lead when Martial sped to the left-hand byline and squared for Marouane Fellaini to score against his old club.
After Romelu Lukaku had seen a penalty saved by United goalkeeper David de Gea, Chris Smalling horribly sliced a cross from substitute Gerard Deulofeu into his own net to gift Everton a 75th-minute equaliser.
But with extra time seconds away, Martial took matters into his own hands, collecting the ball wide on the left and playing one-twos with Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera before nervelessly finding the bottom-right corner.
He has now scored 14 goals in his maiden campaign, but Van Gaal repeated his assertion that the 20-year-old France international’s future lies on the wing rather than at centre-forward.
“I don’t think that he is a striker,” said Van Gaal. “He’s more a wing player. Maybe in the future, but I don’t think so.”
Wayne Rooney also caught the eye in a midfield quarterback role and with 18-year-old Marcus Rashford continuing to justify Van Gaal’s faith up front, the United manager said that his captain was likely to play there again in future.
“At this moment, I think that Rashford does a very good job in the striker’s position,” he said.
“And now Wayne can contribute more for the team in midfield. I have seen today a great Wayne in midfield.”
While Martial, De Gea and Rooney took the plaudits, it was a miserable afternoon for Lukaku, who also squandered two first-half one-on-ones, but Everton manager Roberto Martinez praised his all-round display.
“Only the penalty-taker can miss a penalty, so I don’t think that’s a worry at all,” Martinez said.
“His second-half performance was of a very mature footballer. The ball stuck, he allowed us to play around him.
“He’s still a young man, he’s 22. This team shows that we invested in young players, giving them big roles. Today you saw that they’re starting to fulfil those roles.”
A run of seven league games without victory, culminating in a chastening 4-0 humiliation by Merseyside rivals Liverpool on Wednesday, has hardened fan discontent towards Martinez, but he said that he was still the right man to take the club forward.
“I’ve got so attached to Everton and my ambition is exactly the same as the club’s ambition,” he said.
“I share the drive that the football club has, which is getting into the Champions League, getting into situations where we can bring silverware to the football club, and I’ll give everything I’ve got to fulfil those expectations.”