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Van Gaal certain things will click for Manchester United ahead of Wolfsburg date with destiny

By Ian Herbert

He still needs his fix of Manchester United and their travels across Europe remain his travels. That's why Sir Alex Ferguson was to be found yesterday checking into the modest boutique Innside hotel here, where his arrival coincided with his latest thoughts on the team being broadcast.

"There's always a romance about them," Ferguson had told London's Techcrunch conference in London. "But also there's this great thing: something always happens to them. It's always a topic. It's a great club to watch…"

This did not equate to the United we have come to know, though any discussion of Louis van Gaal and his philosophy was avoided because Ferguson knows that kind of talk makes headlines.

What wouldn't we give for his thoughts, though, on the conservatism which United have descended into: their moribund football, devoid of goals and imagination, which has the side on the brink tonight, knowing that a sixth goalless draw in 10 games will put them out of Europe at the group stage.

Tonight's opponents are hardly impoverished, given that Wolfsburg are Volkswagen-backed, right down to the insignia on the milk and sugar sachets in the press lounge.

But United are in a different financial stratosphere and should not be scrapping for survival, requiring a win if PSV Eindhoven secure their expected victory over CSKA Moscow.

The dour home manager Dieter Hecking was asked how it could be that United, with their vast wealth, were not qualified by now. "Because money is not everything in sport," he replied.

Wolfsburg nominated Andre Schurrle to speak and though courteous - "a great game against a great club" is how he described tonight - he did not hide the fact that a United side who have scored seven in 10 are not what they were.

"I think (they are) quite different," he said. "The style is different. Louis van Gaal is there. Of course they are going to want to play on the possession and calm the game down. We have to be aggressive, even if they calm it down." 'Calm' is not something United can afford to be this time, despite Van Gaal's (pictured) proclivity for the sideways ball.

Time is running out on what hopes the manager might have of coming full circle - repeating that sublime Champions League triumph over AC Milan with the young Ajax team he was managing in 1995.

It will be just two more shots at Europe if he retires in the summer of 2017, as promised. "Yes, of course," he said when asked if running out of time created a sense of urgency.

"I have played three finals as a manager so that's a lot. When you lose, you are so close. It is so disappointing. But now we are in the group. You have to prove as a club, a team, as a player, you have to prove that you can continue."

He has his work cut out. Wolfsburg's record-equalling 29-game unbeaten home run in the Bundesliga has only just been broken and it was left to Bastian Schweinsteiger to describe the urgency United require.

A journalist asked the German about his form and the incident with West Ham's Winston Reid at Old Trafford on Saturday, in which he appeared to elbow the defender. "Your first question is fine but not the second question," he was told. The Football Association last night charged the German with violent conduct. Schweinsteiger, who faces a three-game ban, has until Thursday to respond.

He didn't duck Van Gaal's recent assertion that we have yet to see the best of him. "The Premier League is new for me," he said. "Of course, you can play better in every match. That's my goal to play once in my life the best match but it's impossible."

Asked how he could convince fans that goals would come, Van Gaal provided nothing tangible.

"You never know that for sure," he said. "I have the experience as a manager that the goals shall come. When you are creating chances at the end you shall finish those kind of chances. That's why we have that belief. It's a matter of time and I hope we can prove it."

That Ferguson interview included his thoughts on what a new manager should think about. "The important thing is to be who you are," he said. "Be consistent. Don't change. People don't respond to change when a manager is changing his mind every day."

Which only went to show how difficult it is to generalise. Change is categorically what United need by the banks of the Aller tonight. A change of philosophy, style and intent - or they can wave goodbye to Europe.

Belfast Telegraph


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