Louis van Gaal: Fourth is more important than FA Cup
Finishing in the top four in the Premier League is far more important to Manchester United than winning the FA Cup, Louis Van Gaal has said.
The United manager also said he agreed with the claim made by Arsene Wenger that a top-four place in the league was comparable to winning a trophy.
United host Arsenal at Old Trafford in an FA Cup quarter-final this evening and will have to do so without defender Jonny Evans, who starts a six-match ban after his appeal against a charge for spitting was rejected by an English Football Association independent commission.
Evans has denied the charge, with Newcastle United striker Papiss Cisse having already apologised and pleaded guilty of the same offence in an incident between the two sides last week, and continues to plead his innocence. Cisse will serve a seven-match ban having already been sent off this season.
Evans will be banned until the final week of April as there is no mechanism for him to appeal against the FA decision. United are fully committed to supporting the player and continue to endorse his version of events and his denial of spitting at Cisse.
Van Gaal will have to reshuffle his defence in Evans’ absence and will field his strongest possible side against Arsenal. But he claimed United’s last chance of silverware this season - after failing to win a trophy, apart from the Community Shield, last season - was less important than Champions League qualification.
“I want to get always the goals what we have set. And the goals what we have set is the first four. And a title is fantastic,” Van Gaal said.
“What is important for the club when you win the FA Cup you are not in the Champions League but you have won the title. A title. So for the players it is fantastic, for the manager it is fantastic but our goal is to reach in our first year together a place in the Champions League.”
Asked whether he agreed with Wenger’s statement, which was made three years ago and drew accusations of a lack of ambition, that the “first trophy is to finish in the top four”, Van Gaal said: “Yes, I think that he is right. I think that Arsene Wenger is saying always the right things.
“I think that for a club the Champions League is the highest level and that’s why he is saying that. And to finish in the first four it’s a fantastic result, I think, and for us, Manchester United, more I think.”
Wenger, meanwhile, has suggested he sought retribution when he was spat at during his playing days: “When I played in France, it happened but you didn’t see it on television. When you see it on television it of course makes it worse. I was outraged but I could control myself. I applied the sentence myself.”
Wenger added: “We have to respect the rules. I’ve been subject personally to spitting and maybe my tackle was not good enough. At the time nobody spoke about it.”
But he said the huge interest now meant players such as Evans and Cisse had to accept the punishment. “We are popular,” he said. “We are watched all over the world. It gives us some responsibility as well. When you do not live up to it, you have to pay for it.”
Meanwhile, United youngster Adnan Januzaj has serious ambitions to win some silverware with the club, starting with the FA Cup with a tough quarter-final assignment against Arsenal on the horizon.
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“Once you win a trophy, you want to win other ones like the Champions League and Premier League, for example,” he reasoned. “If you win one cup, it can be the start. I won the Under-21 league with the reserves and I think it was very good for me. You can put that in your locker as well.”
A top-four place may be United’s main requirement this season but the youngster clearly thirsts for more.
As somebody who shares his birthday with Cristiano Ronaldo, one of three players he aspires to emulate (Zinedine Zidane and the recently-retired Juan Roman Riquelme are the others), he clearly must realise the bar has been set extremely high at United when it comes to marrying entertainment with a desire to win every trophy available. Regaining a place among Europe’s elite would be just the start for him.
“I think that’s the aim – to try to qualify for next year’s Champions League,” he accepted. “I played in it last year and it was very good to do so. I was really happy and you know you’re waiting for that kind of opportunity again in the future.”