Manchester United’s return to the Champions League was exactly what they had planned for Louis van Gaal’s first season in charge.
It may not have been pretty at times, amid the chaos of constant injuries and formation changes, but United made it in the end and will be dining at the top table of European football next season, starting with a play-off at the end of August.
A top-four finish was the minimum required this year and although it could be argued van Gaal achieved the goal due to other sides’ shortcomings, United will not be complaining and will want to push on to mount a title challenge next season.
The re-building of the squad is set to continue this summer after David Moyes’ stale United squad laboured to a seventh-placed finish this time last year.
Memphis Depay’s impending arrival from PSV Eindhoven has already added to the new faces we saw come to Old Trafford last summer and more fresh blood is required in order to challenge in the Premier League and on the continent.
There is a feeling that the good times are about to return to United after two seasons in the wilderness. United legend Edwin van der Sar is particularly excited about his former club’s return to the Champions League.
He told the club’s official website, “The Champions League is the place to be and with all the money that goes into the competition, it's the Holy Grail.
“It wasn’t just the games I enjoyed, but also the build-up to them during the day. Then, with the floodlights on and perhaps a wet pitch, people were always up for a great game. You'd walk out and hear the roar of the fans... it's amazing to play in front of a full house, in a competition that the whole world is watching.”
The 44-year-old is encouraged by van Gaal’s first season in charge at the club and believes United will compete for the title under his stewardship.
He continued, “Of course, I've been watching very closely. Last year was strange when we finished seventh, as that’s not a position United have been familiar with over the last 20 years. But then Louis van Gaal came in, as well as some new players.
“I grew up with Louis for six years at Ajax and the Dutch national team and I think he’s a fantastic coach. He won the league at Ajax three times, and he has been with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the national team.
“He has a way of communicating with players, giving them options, and also reviving them – look at Juan Mata and [Marouane] Fellaini who are now flourishing after not the best of starts at United. They’ve blossomed under him.
“Let’s hope the progress we’ve seen this year can be made again this summer with a couple of new signings, in order to challenge for the title again. I think there’s still a lot to come from the squad but you always have to look at where you can adjust or do better.”