Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal admits that the club he has managed for almost two years no longer strikes fear into opposition teams.
It further undermines the prestige of the self-styled “biggest club in the world”, casts additional doubt on Van Gaal’s tenure at Old Trafford and is particularly pertinent given that United’s next two games are against teams they would previously have expected to swat away.
On Monday night they visit League One Shrewsbury in a potential banana-skin fifth-round FA Cup tie; on Thursday they face the return leg of their Europa League tie against Danish minnows Midtjylland, with United looking to overturn a 2-1 first-leg defeat. Both opponents will be hoping to prove Van Gaal’s assertion.
Asked if United no longer benefited from the fear factor, the Dutchman confessed: “When you see the last two games [defeats to Sunderland and Midtjylland] it is maybe like that.”
Trying to remain positive, he added: “We have to make teams fear us again. We lost my first home game – against Swansea City – and people said the same but we recovered and we ended last season with a very good home record. We can do that again, but it is a question of winning matches in a row now.”
With 14 players injured or ill and three matches to come in a week – United also play Arsenal at home in the Premier League next Sunday – getting any kind of run together will be difficult.
Sir Alex Ferguson on Jose Mourinho
Sir Alex Ferguson on Jose Mourinho
1/13 January 2005, after the Carling Cup semi-final first leg
"I think Mourinho has opened a can of worms for himself. We remember what happened in Porto. Look back a couple of weeks to the penalty decision that went their way against Liverpool and how Rafael Benitez handled that. But then Drogba reacted by grabbing Quinton Fortune by the throat, so I wonder whether the FA's compliance unit will be thinking about that."
2005 Manchester United
2/13 December 2006, after Mourinho suggested a five-point gap was only two as the teams had to play
"I'm trembling. It's good that I know we've lost the game in April, because we can have a rest that weekend. I'll put my reserve team in that day [April 14]. The first team can save their energy for the next game. Hopefully, we'll be 20 points ahead by then!"
2005 Manchester United
3/13 December 2006
"We will only be in trouble if we listen to Jose too much. I won’t be letting the players fall into the trap of thinking it’s won because all we have done is given ourselves a foundation. There are many hurdles to be navigated in the run-in. To win the league, you have to have great consistency, particularly around March and April. Historically, we have done okay at that time of the year."
4/13 March 2007, after Mourinho claimed Man Utd got decisions from referees
"His football club have been involved in so many things about referees over the years. It seems to me that, if you contest something at Chelsea and they don't get their own way, then something happens. Either referees or players are threatened and things like that. It's an incredible club. I think he should button his lip now for the rest of the season. I may be only just beginning because there is plenty for me to talk about with Jose and referees, and Chelsea and referees. I've got a catalogue of them, a big file, in my office if you want me to bring it out. But we'll leave that for another day."
2006 Manchester United
5/13 April 2007, after Mourinho again complained about referees
"Mourinho seems to be on some sort of personal crusade. I am surprised no action has been taken. It's calculated. We have four games to go now. If we get a penalty against us, Mourinho wins that war. That is wrong. It is a rant all the time now. I don't think it is fair to the game."
6/13 September 2007, after Mourinho was sacked
"It is a disappointment for the game. He was terrific for football and terrific for Chelsea. I enjoyed the competition with him. He was something fresh and new to our game. I don't know what I will do with my wine now. I wish him well."
7/13 March 2009, ahead of first leg clash with Inter
"I think that when Jose came that there was a great upsurge in Chelsea's position in the game. It happened suddenly. He came in, he uttered those words, 'I'm the special one,' and it seemed to galvanize the whole club."
2009 Manchester United
8/13 March 2011, in an interview with Sports Illustrated
"He's at the top, there's no doubt about that. You have certain criteria in terms of top management, and that is longevity of success—which is very difficult today—and what you win. You have to regard his achievements as really first-class."
9/13 April 2011, after Mourinho was linked with Mourinho under pressure at Real Madrid
“I am great friends with Jose and we often speak about his future. I can understand his desire to come back to England. There is more freedom from media attention for a manager here, you don’t have Marca and the radio programmes at midnight that he gets constantly in Madrid. But it’s a difficult one for me to tell him when this position will become available.”
10/13 December 2011, in a new book titled Jose Mourinho, The Secrets of his Success
"I look at Jose and I see myself reflected in many of the things he does. In the first year at Chelsea when I saw him running along the touchline at Old Trafford, he reminded me of my first years at Aberdeen jumping, raising my arms, celebrating. We're only human. We can't hide our emotions. They're always there, they're part of who we are, of our character."
2013 Manchester United FC
11/13 December 2012, in an interview
"He can manage anywhere, absolutely. I'm not going to put any forecasts on what is going to happen at this club. I won't last forever, but José can manage anywhere, there is no question about that."I would never think a guy who hasn't played a game could be a top coach but then you've got to look at his personality. He's got a marvellous, strong personality and that bridges that gap. I remember his first press conference [at Chelsea, in 2004] and I thought: 'Christ, he's a cocky bastard, him'. He was telling the players: 'Look, I'm the special one, we don't lose games'. Bloody hell, coming to England, he is only a young man and saying he is the special one! But it told all the players to have the belief they were going to win the league."
12/13 December 2014, speaking to Clare Balding
"It is unfair really. He’s good looking, he’s got that sort of George Clooney bit in his hair now. But I think he is a great example, he can speak five languages or whatever he can. He goes and becomes an interpreter for Bobby Robson, follows him to Barcelona, works under Louis Van Gaal; he is learning all the time. He has got a determination, he wants to be a coach. He never played the game, by the way – you tell me how many presidents would give a manager a job who has never played the game? None. But he has done it. Then he goes and manages a small team in Portugal, then goes to Porto and wins the league, wins the Uefa Cup, wins the European Cup, goes to Chelsea and wins the league. Goes to Inter Milan. That is an example to anyone who wants to do well, you shouldn’t let the barriers get in your way if you want to get there."
13/13 December 2015, 10 days before Chelsea sacked Mourinho for the second time
"He has sacked so many coaches... that I am sure he has learned by it. He has to trust and have confidence Jose can turn it around. There is no point in sacking one of the best coaches of all time. He's won the European Cup twice; he's won the league in each country he's managed in, he's won the big trophies. It would be foolish to take that step to sack him. That would be bad management; it's poor leadership, that. It's the first time he's been confronted with non-success. If you look at his whole career it's been nothing but a rise all the time, so for the first time in his life he's had to deal with bad publicity, adversity, and that's a challenge but there are signs he is getting back to a balanced level even though they lost on Saturday... For Jose, all good leaders will eventually find a solution. He will find a solution... It's not looking great at the moment, but I know the guy and work he has done in football and I can't see it lasting long."
2015 Getty Images
Van Gaal said he expected Shrewsbury to adopt the same tactics that proved so successful for Midtjylland and which his side had little answer to.
“I have told the players already it will be difficult to bounce back because you cannot continue losing games,” he said. “The question is how we can lift ourselves for the FA Cup because Shrewsbury Town will also fight for the second balls and play direct and we have to cope with that.
“But we also have to keep the ball better and not give away unnecessary goals, because Midtjylland’s first was unnecessary and we could have won that duel much more easily for their second goal.”
When asked if he thought Shrewsbury might actually be overconfident when taking on United, Van Gaal replied: “I hope so because then it is a benefit for us.”
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