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Romance of the FA Cup has been lost on robotic Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal

By Ian Herbert

Published 23/04/2016

Priority list: Louis van Gaal says qualifying for the Champions League is more important for Manchester United than winning the FA Cup
Priority list: Louis van Gaal says qualifying for the Champions League is more important for Manchester United than winning the FA Cup

For an individual whose side are at Wembley, one step away from their first FA Cup final since 2007, Louis van Gaal was not exactly the life and soul.

"I'm not living in the past. I'm living in the present. I don't remember too much of my childhood. I'm still young enough to see my future," the Manchester United manager declared, when pressed on whether he might have specific memories of the competition he says he watched back in his formative years.

The prospect of that future belonging at Old Trafford is questionable even if United do clear the obstacle of Everton and progress to a final which they win.

The cost of the anaemic brand of football he has brought is revealed in new figures which show United paid out more than £10.02m in agent fees between October and February - the highest in the Premier League.

David de Gea's contract negotiations contributed to the size of the figure, which is 21.5 per cent of the overall spend on agents by Premier League clubs from October 1, 2015 to February 1, 2016.

Rarely have a weekend's semi-finals been contested between four managers on such a negative trajectory.

Roberto Martinez finds himself wading through an even deeper swamp after the nature of defeat to Liverpool in midweek. At least he can escape the penury of Goodison Park, where this has been the worst season in the club's 138-year history.

Meanwhile, Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew's nine wins before Christmas have been followed by only one win in the Premier League since December 19.

Even Watford's Quique Sanchez Flores faces pressure. Watford's owners, the Pozzo family, are considering his future.

For a time, Van Gaal believed he had the supporters with him, despite everything. His expression of that fact gave us the wonderfully absurd spectacle, earlier this season, of him raising his arms and his voice.

"The fans are shouting 'Louis van Gaal's army, Louis van Gaal's army'," he chanted.

That startling moment seems a very distant memory now that colourful indignation has been replaced by cold irritation.

He left Thursday's press conference grumbling about how he had not had the chance to talk about Everton, when he'd just declined a request to do so.

He did warm ever so slightly to the tournament's significance. "In the Netherlands and Spain, the Cup is not so highly valued," he said. "In Germany, they have a fixed stadium in Berlin and they make a big event of it. I like the way the Germans do it and I expect that here it is much bigger."

But the overall tone was one of unappealing self-absorption. His insistence, for example, that he should take credit for displaying the "guts" to field young players this season came in response to a question about the contribution of reserve team manager Warren Joyce and former Under-18 coach Paul McGuinness.

Joyce's team lifted the Premier League Under-21 competition this week. It would have taken just a second for Van Gaal to have acknowledged the fact.

He agreed that winning a trophy could be a catalyst to greater things. But the Premier League campaign stalks him to such an extent that even the prospect of his first United silverware does not hold the lustre you imagine.

"It is always a success when you win a trophy," he said. "But for the club it is more important to qualify for the Champions League because we have to show ourselves at the highest level."

Thus was an occasion for romance and fervour reduced to something monochrome and mechanical. United's season, encapsulated in a press conference.

Man United

Everton

FA Cup semi-final:

Wembley, Today, 5.15pm

Belfast Telegraph

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