LONDON • Louis van Gaal admitted that Manchester United's Champions League qualifier against Club Brugge today is the most important match of his Old Trafford reign and backed misfiring striker Wayne Rooney to deliver in the high-stakes clash.
United, absent from Europe's elite club competition last term for the first time in 19 seasons, have never been knocked out in the Champions League qualifying rounds. And the pressure is on the English giants to make the lucrative group stage.
United earned €32 million (S$50 million) from their last group-stage appearance in the 2013-14 season and van Gaal admitted that defeat in the two-legged tie is not an option.
"There is a lot of pressure because our aim and goal is to reach the Champions League, and that is what (Arsenal manager) Arsene Wenger mentioned last year, that these kind of matches are difficult," said the Dutchman, who succeeded David Moyes last summer.
"And because of the draw, I think it is much more difficult because we have drawn Brugge and they can defend very good and they can attack also, so it shall be a difficult match and that is why the pressure is high.
"All the players and the fans and the board of the club want to participate in the Champions League but first you have to beat Brugge."
United host Brugge - second in the Belgian league last season - in the first leg today, when the spotlight will inevitably fall on Rooney.
The England international has not scored in eight games for United and was poor in Saturday's 1-0 win over Aston Villa. The 29-year-old had just one touch inside the opposing penalty area despite being restored in his favoured position as an out-and-out striker.
But van Gaal backed Rooney to come good in his press conference yesterday but also suggested that he has other options.
"I have always confidence in my players. We don't only have Wayne Rooney in the striker's position, we have Adnan Januzaj who played in the USA (on tour) as a striker. I gave him that chance and he showed he can do that.
"We have Chicharito (Javier Hernandez) and James Wilson. I don't think we have a lack of strikers.
"I think all the media has written that for one year and advised me that I have to put Rooney in the striker's position. So it is amazing after two matches, you are doubting your own opinion. "
Van Gaal was even more miffed when asked if the supply to Rooney could be improved.
"Maybe you can ask the board of Manchester United if you are the trainer coach or the manager, and then you can discuss it with your staff," he told the reporter.