Louis van Gaal has often been accused of lacking people-skills (ask Stoichkov, Rivaldo and Victor Valdes), but no-one could ever accuse him of lacking in self-belief.
His latest assertion that United can win the Champions League will probably be met by cries of derision in many quarters. But is there any truth in his words, or is it merely bluster designed to placate fans whom are still riled by the Pedro fiasco?
As the man that guided Ajax to back-to-back final appearances, including winning the competition in `95, he is better equipped than most to pass judgement on this current United squad´s chances. So does he really believe in what he says?
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Well he is known for his forthright answers and blunt honesty.
But does this United team truly have what it takes to lift the giant cup with the big ears? On paper, no.
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It is difficult to imagine United beating any of Barca, Madrid, or Bayern over a two-legged tie. Even with a couple of lucky draws in the first two knock-out rounds (if the group stage can be negated), a glance at the semi-finalists from the past five years suggests that those three are likely to await at the semi-final stage.
Of course there are others too. Currently United are a distance behind the likes of Chelsea, City and PSG. Any of those teams would be considered favourites were they to be drawn against this United team.
That brings to six, the teams that the Old Trafford club should not be capable of surpassing. All of which points to a quarter-final berth being a more realistic target (much like fourth place in the Premier League was last season).
Those are, as Rafa Benitez would want to say, the facts. But facts can be misleading, as he himself knows. He too, guided a club to that coveted European crown, with what he called his worst Liverpool team (beating Juventus, Chelsea and AC Milan, teams considered to be vastly superior to his). It can be done.
One major plus for United, is that Van Gaal´s system is ideally suited to European football. It is the same system he employed when directing his unfancied young Ajax side to victory over one of the greatest club sides in recent history, AC Milan. He proved that if players bought into his footballing philosophy that anything is possible.
Another positive is United´s record against the top-five at domestic level (four wins, two draws and two defeats), in particular the scintillating derby victory. It proved that despite the popular misconception, the club could still hold their own against the best.
So then could this United team defy all the odds and bring home the biggest prize in European football? Technically, anything is possible, but the odds are against them doing so, for good reason. At this moment it would be hard to argue that they merit an inclusion in the top ten list of European teams.
United as Champions league winners should not occur, but stranger things have happened.
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