Louis van Gaal has guided Manchester United back into contention for a Champions League berth, but believes fourth place in the Premier League should not be enough to earn a place in Europe’s elite club competition.
Van Gaal’s side are now behind fourth placed Manchester City only on goal difference and will be looking for a third successive league win at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
Delivering a second successive season of Champions League football to Old Trafford would be seen as a success for Van Gaal, whose job appeared to be under major threat before their recent revival, which has also seen them reach the last 16 of the Europa League and the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
But the Dutchman, a Champions League winner as manager of Ajax, remains a supporter of the former European Cup format, which saw only league champions take part before the advent of the Champions League in 1992 started to widen the field with the introduction of a group stage and then more than one team per country.
And Van Gaal would also oppose the formation of some form of European Super League, being mooted by some clubs on the continent and, reportedly, discussed loosely by the Premier League’s ‘big five’ of United, City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.
“Everybody knows when you follow my career that I am against the Super League and something like that,” Van Gaal told reporters on Friday.
“Sport is to be the best. When the Champions League was existing I said it was rubbish because the first and second and third and fourth team is also playing.
“When you have a competition it has to be between the champions. I said it 20 years ago and I say it now.
“It is only commercially thinking. When you are thinking like a commercial dealer then of course you are right but I think sport is to win not to be second or third.”
– Fantastic –
As well as fourth place in the league, Van Gaal also wants to bring a first piece of silverware to Old Trafford since the 2013 league title won by Alex Ferguson in his last season, and he says the confidence of his team is growing.
“I am talking to my players about first believing in it. I believe in it but the players have to believe in that and they now understand that you can,” Van Gaal said.
“It (the top four) is still our aim but our aim is also to win a title and a title is winning the Europa League.
“Manchester United hasn’t won it so it would be fantastic for the club and the fans. Also Manchester United hasn’t won the FA Cup for many years and that is also fantastic.
“A title is always more than fourth position but the Champions League is our aim and that is why the Europa League and fourth in the table are important.”
Marcus Rashford, 18, is again set to lead United’s attack at West Brom after four goals in his first three games and Van Gaal believes his age should be no barrier to possible senior England inclusion.
“It’s never too early. I have said a lot of times, age is not important. It’s the quality,” said Van Gaal after England coach Roy Hodgson confirmed the striker is on his radar.