LONDON • Louis van Gaal, the embattled Manchester United manager, has warned the English football club's fans that they are living in the past if they expect his side to be able to dominate the Premier League and impress in Europe as much as they did under Alex Ferguson.
Despite intensifying criticism of his reign after a series of stultifying goalless draws domestically and European embarrassment against Wolfsburg on Tuesday, the Dutchman insisted that he cannot be held responsible when his players make individual mistakes.
The 64-year-old is convinced, though, that the landscape of the Premier League has been so radically altered by the influx of money into English football that the days of United being able to sweep the vast majority of their opponents aside are long gone.
That the club's supporters - as well as a host of his critics among the ranks of United's former players - have not realised that, he suggested, has given rise to a climate in which the expectations are so high that they can never be met.
"I am working very hard and my players are working very hard to do everything we can," he said. "The problem is that we have to meet with expectations and the expectations at Manchester United are very high. That is our problem.
DOMINANCE A THING OF THE PAST
It is not as easy as everybody thinks. Now we have many more clubs who have money, and the structure to win things.
LOUIS VAN GAAL ,Man U manager
"They say a club like Manchester United has to win. That's the past. You have to analyse the club now. (You cannot) compare it with 10 years ago, because there has been an evolution in football, European football.
"It is not as easy as everybody thinks. Now we have many more clubs (in England and in Europe) who have money, and the structure to win things.
"Next year, all the clubs in the Premier League have a bigger budget than most of the clubs in Europe. That makes a big difference. Every club can buy a player: The difference (in the transfer market) is not so big.
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"You think Manchester United has a lot of money, that is true, but the difference (with others) is not so big any more.
"The confirmation is (apparent) every week. The bottom clubs can beat the top teams. There is no other league that this happens as often as it does in the Premier League. That makes it very difficult for a Premier League club to match (teams) from other leagues in the Champions League."
Van Gaal believes that the difference between clubs is not so great any more.
"We shall do everything to win something, but it is very difficult," he said. "It is not only difficult for Manchester United. It is also difficult for Manchester City and Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea or Leicester."
Those difficulties - and the criticism that has followed in their wake - have not been enough to dent Van Gaal's self-confidence.
Despite spending more than £250 million (S$537 million) on players since his arrival in England, he is convinced it is unfair that he is facing such intense scrutiny over whether he is the right man for the job, offering a pointed reminder of some of the more recent highlights on his CV.
He did, though, accept that he was "very sorry" that his side had been demoted to the Europa League after their defeat in Wolfsburg, but he seemed to suggest that he could not be held responsible for his players' individual failings.
"When you say that I am hired to make the difference, you are right," he said. "I don't think it is (that I am unable to).
"I can make the difference, in tactics and everything. But I cannot score goals."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE