Fearless Van Gaal relishes underdog role for his Euro star hopefuls
FOR a club that revels in its 'FC Hollywood' nickname, Bayern Munich simply do not do 'B-List.' They possess the best stadium in Germany, if not Europe, and lay claim to the country's biggest fan-base.
Bayern's trophy cabinet has housed the European Cup four times and their alumni are as celebrated as those of Real Madrid, AC Milan and Manchester United.
Yet for all the images of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Lothar Matthäus, there is the rare sense of an inferiority complex around the Allianz Arena as Bayern prepare to face United in the Champions League quarter-final first-leg tonight.
Outside of Bayern's Saberner Strasse training complex, nobody is willing to risk ridicule by suggesting that Louis van Gaal's team are capable of eliminating United to secure a place in the semi-finals. Even within the club's hierarchy, which is populated by their former greats, fear is the foremost emotion.
Bayern president Beckenbauer applied the 'f' word (fear) to describe the prospect of facing Wayne Rooney, while chairman Rummenigge greeted the pairing with United by claiming his side would have to "exceed our limits" to beat Alex Ferguson's team.
Fortunately for Bayern, self-doubt and trepidation will not reside in the manager's dug-out this evening. Dutch coach Van Gaal, a prickly character at the best of times, appeared indignant at the probing of the German media yesterday, who were only interested in how Bayern could stop Rooney and United.
But if Bayern's players are as fired up as their coach, Ferguson should be worried tonight. "I'm not afraid of anybody," van Gaal declared. "I'm never afraid and never have been. My players are not afraid of anybody either, but we respect their qualities and those of Rooney.
"As a team, we can make it because we also have qualities and I think they are also a bit afraid of my players. I think Alex and his players are maybe a bit afraid.
"But I am happy that you say that we are underdogs. It's the first time I have had that said to me, so I thank you. I understand that we are not the favourites, so we are allowed to lose."
Van Gaal can at least support his fighting talk with a CV that only Ferguson, of his Champions League contemporaries, can surpass. A Champions League winner with Ajax in 1995, Van Gaal has twice endured the pressure of Barcelona and also the impossible job of coaching the myriad temperaments of the Dutch national team.
He is a blue chip coach and he will not shrink in Ferguson's company this evening, but while his bosses might be happy merely to be on the same pitch as United, Van Gaal is by no means satisfied.
He said: "Bayern are 110 years old, but there are always tendencies in a club and maybe we are happy that we have achieved our goal of getting to the quarter-final.
"That was our goal because that was what the board told me. That was our aim, we've got that, but I want more and so do the players.
"We are not level one yet. United are level one because they do it on a consistent basis, but we can do it in games if we are at our best.
"Beating United is not easy because the organisation within United is very good. I am jealous of this organisation. If we had it at Bayern, we would be one step further."
Rooney, who could yet end Germany's World Cup hopes if they meet their old foes England in the second round in South Africa, is the talk of Munich ahead of tonight's game.
His dismantling of Milan in the last round rippled throughout Europe and Van Gaal admits he is the player Bayern must shackle.
Van Gaal said: "We value Rooney's quality. He is a super-fussballer and he isn't that old yet. "When he was younger, I often wondered whether he had the vision in his game.
"He has developed that now and is very hard to mark out of the game. He is a great player, always efficient in his actions, and that wasn't the case when he was younger. Rooney is now very difficult to keep out of the game, but it is very important not to concentrate on one player.
"But we can manage because we also have quality. Ferguson and his players should be scared of that. The team comes first and the team has to do well. United have weaknesses maybe, but we have to score the goals. I have said this many times. Just saying something is not enough."
Van Gaal, an advocate of a Europe-wide salary cap to bring equality to the Champions League, suggests that, if United progress beyond Bayern to reach the final, it will be another landmark achievement by Ferguson. He said: "If United make it to the final, we will again see a fantastic performance from this team and their manager.
"Replacing a player like Cristiano Ronaldo is not easy, but he (Ferguson) does it every year."
Van Gaal will give injured Arjen Robben every chance of making the game, knowing he is capable of the individual brilliance that helped dispose of Fiorentina in the last round.
But he has vowed no chances will be taken with his calf strain picked up at the weekend.
"We need a player like Robben against Manchester United but if he is not 100pc, he doesn't play," van Gaal said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)