5th December, 2014
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has played down talk of a rift with Southampton boss Ronald Koeman before the Dutch pair face each other for the first time in the Premier League.
Van Gaal employed Koeman as his assistant at Barcelona from 1998 to 2000 and they combined to lead the Catalan club to the Spanish league title.
Their next working relationship wasn’t so happy, though, when van Gaal was appointed director of coaching at Ajax where Koeman had also become a title-winning manager.
Following a number of disagreements, van Gaal left 12 months later in 2005, to take charge at AZ Alkmaar and they have swapped barbs since.
With Koeman now manager of Southampton, the pair are preparing to lock horns at St Mary’s Stadium on Monday as they compete for a top-four place in the Premier League.
But van Gaal refused to fan the flames of the dispute and praised the work his compatriot has done since taking over in the close season and surprising many by leading the Saints into the race for Champions League places.
“I don’t have to describe my relationship with the trainer of the opponent,” said van Gaal.
“That’s more private I think. We play against Southampton and we have to speak about Southampton and not the coach.
“It’s the same in every country. Every country always has a surprise at the beginning of the season.
“Zwolle – a club in the Netherlands – was leading the competition in the Dutch league for six or eight matches. It’s always like that.
“But as I have said earlier, what always matters is the end of May. That counts. Now it’s not so important.
“Southampton have a very good squad. I know a lot of players and a lot of players were offered to us.
“They are able to come in the first four, but that’s also because I believe in the management of Ronald Koeman and his brother (Erwin). When the cohesion is good he can manage.”
– Impressive start –
Southampton’s impressive start to the season came despite the sale of a number of high-profile players, including Luke Shaw to United and the trio of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert to Liverpool.
Lallana was linked with a move to Old Trafford but van Gaal looked elsewhere.
“I don’t think money is the question in this. When Manchester is coming, clubs are always asking more money and we have to pay because we are Manchester United,” van Gaal said.
“Do you think Southampton pay too much for players? I don’t think so, because they are Southampton.
“There is always a relationship between Real Madrid and Manchester United and teams like Aston Villa and Southampton.”
After a run of eight wins in nine games, Southampton have taken only one point from their last three and lost their last two to Manchester City and Arsenal.
United will provide another acid test of their staying power and van Gaal’s side will be helped by the return of captain Wayne Rooney after the England striker missed one game with a knee injury as they look for the win that would take them above Koeman’s side into third.
Defender Jonny Evans is also fit to return but winger Angel di Maria remains an absentee with a hamstring problem.