Louis van Gaal says winning this season’s Europa League would be a big achievement for Manchester United.
Wednesday’s defeat to Wolfsburg saw three-time winners United eliminated from the Champions League and brought heavy criticism from former players including Roy Keane.
The Europa League knockout stages await, but the week’s events have not shaken Van Gaal’s belief in his own ability, and ahead of the Saturday Night Football trip to Bournemouth the manager repeated his claim that United are showing signs of progress.
And there was a message to his critics among the media and the club’s support: United are no longer too big for Europe’s second competition.
Asked whether he would be happy winning ‘just’ the Europa League this season, he said: “Just? You think it’s just? I’m not thinking like that.
“I have already won the Europa League with Ajax in my first season, and I was very proud of that. For me, the Euro (Europa) League is a big competition.
“We are now in the Europa League so now we have to win it. That is not easy. I can say that in advance but nobody hears me. They don’t want to hear me because a club like United has to win.”
Van Gaal said he had “no doubt” he could fulfil his brief at Old Trafford, which he described as “to improve [the team] and win a title when it is possible.”
And the Dutchman, who was given significant money to overhaul the squad in the summer and has led United to within three points of top spot in the Premier League, suggested that his critics have unrealistic ambitions.
“You have to analyse now the club, and you cannot compare it to 10 years ago because there is an evolution in football, and stuff like that,” said Van Gaal, who is without nine first-team players this weekend.
“You can make your own opinion, but I had a task when I came to improve and win a title when it is possible. “We are in that process, but when I say that I shall have the criticism that ‘football is not a process’ but – sorry – I think it is like that.
“You can lose and you can win in sport, and you have to accept that, as a player and as a manager, but you have to work very hard and I am working very hard and my players are working very hard and doing everything we can do.
“The problem is that we have to meet the expectations and the expectations at a club like Manchester United are very high, and that’s our problem.”