Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has spoken of his joy at the prospect of the club managing to finish in third place in the Premier League this season – but is it really something anyone should be happy about?
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Van Gaal is quoted on Sky Sports as saying: “You want to win and it is a big step in the table to do so. When you win third place is reachable and a few months ago nobody was thinking about that apart from me, the third position in the table is good because you are certainly qualified for the Champions League and it would be better than our pre-season goals.”
‘Better than our pre-season goals’? It would be one thing to accept perhaps midway through the season, with Chelsea running away with the title race and United far from consistent in their results, that a top four spot or simply finishing as high as possible would be a realistic aim, but surely a club like United wouldn’t be thinking so small before the season had even started. Let’s not forget that, even if they did finish a dreadful seventh place last season, they were champions just the previous year with many of these same players. With big names like Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Ander Herrera added to their squad, surely there was a team in place at Old Trafford this season to mount more of a serious challenge to Chelsea.
If – for example – Southampton had continued their great run at the start of the season to finish in such a lofty position beyond any of their pre-season expectations, then fair enough, but is that really something you want to be hearing from the manager of a club who have won the league a record-breaking 20 times in their history?
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Of course, adjusting to new managers and new team-mates takes time, but talk of ‘transitional seasons’ is dangerous for a club. The likes of Liverpool and Arsenal have failed in the last few years to truly build elite winning teams again due to his mentality. Every year there seem to be enough excuses in terms of change of personnel or other setbacks that mean this season somehow doesn’t count, and that it’s all about preparing for next year. United must be cautious not to fall into this trap as well, or it will be a long time before they’re winning anything again like they did under Sir Alex Ferguson, who would never accept such a term.
Van Gaal may quietly be satisfied with finishing third when it looked out of reach at points, but that still shouldn’t be the message to his players or the club’s fans. Expectations must not be lowered at any level – third may be better than 7th but it is still another trophyless season and a poor achievement for a club of this size and ambition.