The Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal, who is buoyed by his club going top of the Premier League, has suggested that they are capable of winning the Champions League.
Van Gaal never required much encouragement to issue reminders that he won the trophy in 1995, with Ajax, and at a time when he is making comparisons between Anthony Martial and Patrick Kluivert – his prodigy who played a match-winning role against Milan in that final – said the club, who entertain Wolfsburg on Wednesday night, can do it again.
“I think we can, because I’ve done it,” he said. “It’s not [just] quality but it’s also luck. For me as a manager when you reach the final you have done fantastic. I think in the Champions League you need to win all your home matches otherwise it will be very difficult.”
His side, who will be without Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera, will need to defend better than they did in the 2-1 away defeat to PSV Eindhoven in their opening match, though Martial’s interaction with Juan Mata which has already yielded four goals in five games is fuelling United’s optimism.
Europe will create a true sense of whether United’s rise in the Premier League is simply a reflection of the indifferent standards of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, though Wolfsburg ought not to threaten Van Gaal’s aspirations. They have started the Bundesliga campaign erratically, with three wins in seven and are nine points off leaders Bayern Munich.
The club – who are without Luis Gustavo – also bring with them the fallout of the VW emissions scandal. They were formed from a Volkswagen workers’ sports club in 1945 and are a wholly-owned subsidiary of the stricken car manufacturer, whose financial investment helped them win the Bundesliga title in 2009 and German Cup last season. Analysts are already suggesting the scandal may damage VW’s investment and threaten their funding streams.
“When you suffer a big financial hit, you have to look for savings,” the respected Coventry University sports business analyst Simon Chadwick has told the BBC World Service. “Sponsorship is one of the things that gets hit during times of austerity. It has to have an impact on the club. Depending on the size of the financial dent it remains to be seen whether they can sustain the level of expenditure, and therefore the team’s performance, that we’ve seen over recent seasons.”
The club’s sporting director Klaus Allofs has moved to reassure concerned fans. “As things stand now, nothing will change,” he said. The former Wolfsburg striker Jonathan Akpoborie is less convinced. “The link is always there. For the players it’s not hidden. You know that without Volkswagen the team can’t survive, it would crumble,” he has told the BBC.
Van Gaal only has thoughts for himself and his own side. He even held open the prospect of not carrying out his pledge to leave once his contract expires in 2017 – should United bring him a second Champions League trophy, 21 years after his first. “Normally I leave after next year, but nothing in football is normal,” he said. “But I promised my wife to go to our [Portuguese] paradise and it would be hard to break that promise.”Reuse content