Louis van Gaal may have spent over £250million since he took over at Manchester United, but he still does not know whether his squad is capable of being a major force in the Champions League.
Van Gaal took his spending past the quarter of a billion pound mark two weeks ago when he signed Anthony Martial from Monaco for a fee that could rise to £58million.
Over £150million was spent on six players last season as Van Gaal looked to get United back into the Champions League. Having achieved that goal, Van Gaal now has the task of trying to take United far in the competition.
United have been handed a relatively easy group, but on the eve of Tuesday’s group match in Eindhoven against PSV, the 64-year-old admitted he was venturing into the unknown with his team.
“We have to show on the pitch if we are able to win matches on the highest level,” said Van Gaal.
“That’s also a challenge for us now. Last year we were fourth in the Premier League.
“We qualified ourselves this year and that was our aim so now we have to show if we are able to play at that level and that I don’t know, neither. I have to wait and see.
“I think the Champions League is a higher podium than the Premier League but maybe it’s not like that.”
If Martial continues his current ratio of one goal per 25 minutes, £58million will look a bargain.
The 19-year-old Frenchman stepped off the bench to score a stunning goal on debut in the 3-1 win over Liverpool on Saturday.
With Wayne Rooney still out through injury, Van Gaal has come under pressure from supporters to hand Martial his full debut at the Philips Stadion on Tuesday, but the Dutchman looks more l
ikely to keep his young star on the bench.
The United boss is concerned about placing too much pressure on Martial so he is trying to do everything he can to play down expectations on a player who only made his Ligue 1 debut 22 months
“His impression is good,” Van Gaal added. “But you have to give him time and that is what the fans need to do because he cannot change the market price.”
Van Gaal was in some ways trying to play down his team’s chances of starting the group stage with a big win against the top seed.
“A draw away is always a good result in my opinion,” he said.
“But I want to win and the first match it is very important to win. And it is also like that for PSV so you have to wait and see.”
The reason for Van Gaal’s caution, perhaps, may lie in the fact that he has a poor record at the Philips Stadion with Ajax and AZ Alkmaar.
In 10 visits to the province of North Brabant, he has won just twice.
“For me it is a difficult place. I didn’t win so much here,” said Van Gaal, who also drew here in the Champions League with Barcelona in 1997.
Van Gaal used to get abuse when he visited here with Ajax, but he does not anticipate a hostile reception on Tuesday night.
“When I came here the people were very nice,” Van Gaal said at his pre-match press conference at the stadium.
“They wanted a picture with me. I think that’s not bad.”
Three years ago Van Gaal was on a three-man shortlist for the PSV job, but he took the national job for a second time.
“It is true. Nevertheless it’s also a process and at that time the time was not good for me to come here,” he said. “Now the moment has passed.”