Arsenal vs Manchester United: Louis van Gaal won't follow Arsene Wenger's lead after 19-year stay with Gunners

Van Gaal says 'you have to be good' to remain at United as long as Sir Alex Ferguson did to raise questions over Wenger's reign at Arsenal

Click to follow
The Independent Football

“To stay at one club for that length of time, you have to be very good, believe me.” Louis van Gaal said of Arsene Wenger. The Manchester United manager confessed he could not imagine himself in the same office for 19 years. The longest he had stayed at one club was his eight years at Ajax – six of them as manager.

There are many similarities between Van Gaal in Amsterdam and Wenger in London. Both developed a reputation for unearthing brilliant young talent, both went through a season unbeaten and both oversaw moves from their club’s traditional home to a lucrative new stadium.

Van Gaal quit Ajax after a year at the Amsterdam Arena, which had not been a success. The pitch was dreadful in comparison to the old De Meer, money was starting to flood into football and there were rows over bonuses and wages. Talent like Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Michael Reiziger realised they could earn vastly more outside the Netherlands.

Had Wenger left Arsenal after a season at the Emriates, he would have gone when his reputation was at its zenith. The only disappointment would have been the defeat in the European Cup final by Barcelona. Instead, he clung on.

“I left Ajax because I was young and wanted more,” said Van Gaal. “I took the challenge. It is dependable on your character. What do you want? When you can, like Sir Alex Ferguson stay at a club for a long period of time, you have to be good.”

Had Wenger taken Van Gaal’s path in 2006, he would have managed his national team, taken charge of a big beast in La Liga and the Bundesliga and probably won more than just two FA Cups.

Van Gaal, however, does not judge managerial success in silverware. Only three managers of Manchester United have won the league and Van Gaal said it would not necessarily count as a failure if he did not become the fourth - before going off to his home in the Algarve to spend more time with his wife and golf clubs.

“You can never be disappointed when you have done everything to have reached a certain level,” he said. “To be a champion, you need circumstances to be in your favour – and that is not always the case.” Asked if he could go for years without winning a major trophy, as Wenger has done, he replied: “I am not that type. I like to win a lot.”

Van Gaal remarked that the biggest failure of his own career was not to have qualified the Netherlands for the 2002 World Cup because he had the resources to do so. His forward line as the 1-0 defeat to Ireland at Lansdowne Road reached its climax was Kluivert, Van Nistelrooy, Hasselbaink and Van Hooijdonk.

You always have to believe you can win and I think the balance in our squad is much better than last year

Louis van Gaal, Manchester United

Six years later came another failure but one which Van Gaal considers a much less serious stain on his CV. The AZ Alkmaar side he managed had merely to beat the Eredivisie’s bottom club, Excelsior, at home to win the league for the first time in 25 years. They lost but Van Gaal pointed out that PSV Eindhoven, the team that beat them to the title, had three times Alkmaar’s budget.

“Failure is always dependable on what evaluation you make on your own performance,” he said. “Always I say to myself: ‘Could you have done this better?’ We lost the league to PSV Eindhoven but I don’t think the circumstances were in our favour.

“But you always have to believe you can win and I think the balance in our squad is much better than last year. And the most important thing is that not only do I believe but the players are starting to believe in that and, if we win at Arsenal, that belief shall rise a lot.”