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Louis van Gaal eyes ‘paradise’ but could yet extend Manchester United stay

There was a moment as Louis van Gaal held court with Bastian Schweinsteiger, contemplating what it would need to add another Champions League to their long and distinguished careers, when the Manchester United manager was informed of something that Sir Alex Ferguson had said about what it was like once you got “the bug” at Old Trafford.

Louis Van Gaal

Louis van Gaal originally said he would retire at 55 but he turns 65 next year and has been expected to leave Old Trafford at the end of his contract. Photograph: Mercury Press/Rex Shutterstock

Ferguson, described by the Daily Telegraph once as The Man Who Couldn’t Retire, had been discussing whether Van Gaal might find it equally as hard severing his ties when his contract expires at the end of next season. His conclusion was that Van Gaal might also decide to stay longer, on the basis that “once you get bitten, it is very difficult to walk away”.

The response from Van Gaal was certainly not a flat denial. “Normally I shall leave after next year but what is normal in our football world?” the Dutchman said. “You never know, so I cannot answer that question, but I did promise my wife to go with her to our paradise, so it shall be very hard for me to deny her that promise.

“I was 55 [when I first said I would retire] and then I went to Bayern Munich and next year I am 65. If I say I want to stay a year longer it shall be very hard for my wife.”

The place he calls paradise is his holiday home on the Algarve, where he and Truus plan to spend their retirement, and if Van Gaal goes through with those plans he is not leaving himself a great deal of opportunity – two seasons – to fulfil his ambition of winning the European Cup for a second time.

His team are top of the Premier League and United’s supporters can certainly be encouraged by Schweinsteiger’s response when the Germany international was asked what made him confident about the team’s chances of doing better in Europe than many people imagine.

Schweinsteiger’s explanation – “the team spirit” – was said in a way that made it feel as though there was a togetherness about the squad that he had seldom encountered at Bayern Munich. His body language and general demeanour provided the hard evidence why the World Cup winner reflected on his first few months in Manchester and said he felt “very comfortable” in his new surroundings.

Equally, it needs more than team spirit to reach a Champions League final and United’s defeat against PSV Eindhoven has left them under pressure to deliver a better performance when they play Wolfsburg, who currently lie fourth in the Bundesliga, on Wednesday. This is the first time United have gone into their second group game without a point since losing to Juventus in 1996 and Wolfsburg’s 5-1 defeat at Bayern last week was their first defeat in 15 matches.

Dieter Hecking has been voted the Bundesliga’s manager of the year after winning the German Cup last season, followed by beating Bayern on penalties to lift the German Super Cup. He is also clearly unafraid of speaking his mind, criticising the team’s Dutch striker Bas Dost recently for “egotism”, adding that the player who usually keeps Nicklas Bendtner out of the team “strolls around for three days as if somebody has taken his toy away”. Hecking later said it was a mistake to criticise his player publicly when the team’s success has been largely based on their togetherness.

They could potentially be tricky opponents, winning their first game against CSKA Moscow, but there is clearly a gulf between Bayern and the other Bundesliga teams – Pep Guardiola’s side have also inflicted a 6‑1 away win onWolfsburg in the last 18 months – whereas United have been showing signs of improvement and Ferguson’s verdict last week was that the collapsed transfer of the goalkeeper David de Gea to Real Madrid “might actually win us the league”.

Van Gaal also considered the domestic championship to be “realistic” and was typically modest when asked to expand on his reasons. “Because I did it everywhere” came the reply.

His preparation for the Wolfsburg game has had to take into account an injury for Michael Carrick that means the midfielder will not be involved. Ander Herrera was also absent from United’s final training session and the same applied to Antonio Valencia, meaning the fit-again Phil Jones may get his first start of the season. Carrick’s problem was described as minor but Van Gaal is reluctant to risk him when he can play Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin instead.

“We have made progress in the maturity of the team and the balance of the team,” the United manager said. “That is why I brought Schweinsteiger here and Schneiderlin because they give composure to the team.

“We have improved if we compare us with the team of last year, but we need still time to improve because we will have to improve to win the Premier League or a tournament like the Champions League. We are still improving and I can see that every week.” –THE GUARDIAN-


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