Man United Must Balance Louis Van Gaal Expectations Despite World Cup Success

Rob DawsonManchester United CorrespondentJuly 3, 2014

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 23:  Head coach Louis van Gaal of the Netherlands looks on prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group B match between the Netherlands and Chile at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 23, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Even before Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement, there had long been a theory that the manager who followed him would have his work cut out.

That wasn't the job you wanted. No. You wanted to be the man who went after the man who replaced Fergie. 

The logic was simple. Ferguson was so successful that it would be almost impossible to continue, never mind improve his record. You only have to look at Wilf McGuinness to see that.

And so it proved. David Moyes took over from Ferguson and was sacked 10 months into his six-year contract. 

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 25:  Former Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson applauds prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on March 25, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

But now comes the man after the man. Louis van Gaal.

Expectations should be at an all-time low at Old Trafford this summer. Well, as low as they've been since 1974.

United finished seventh last season. They ended it 22 points behind champions Manchester City and 15 points off a Champions League spot. They were even five points away from securing the last Europa League place.

It's a lot of ground to make up to get back to where they're used to.

But the mood has changed since the end of last season. Van Gaal is using the World Cup to show anyone who didn't know already that he is a top-quality coach.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 20:  David Moyes manager of Manchester United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on April 20, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Ima
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

And United are spending money. First on Ander Herrera and then Luke Shaw. Two exciting young players. There is the promise of more to come before August.

Slowly but surely, expectations are rising. The fans who said they would be happy for a place in the top four next season are starting to set their sights a little higher.

There is nothing wrong with that. After all, we are talking about Manchester United, a football club that measures success in silver.

But it's important to remember what United went through last season. And what they have lost. 

Experienced defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have gone. And the players who stayed have had their confidence battered and bruised.

More than that, history suggests teams that make a lot of changes in one summer aren't immediately successful. Just ask Andre Villas-Boas and Franco Baldini.

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 29:  Head coach Louis van Gaal of the Netherlands (2nd L) looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Netherlands and Mexico at Castelao on June 29, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griff
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

United fans have reason to be optimistic. Things are looking a lot brighter now than they were in the aftermath of two damaging, humiliating Old Trafford defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool only a matter of months ago.

But amid all the excitement, it's important to remember that United are rebuilding. The first target must be to get back into the Champions League.

A club of their size and stature can't do without it for very long. 

A trophy, the title even, is, of course, possible. But it will be a bonus. 

The real task facing Van Gaal is getting United back on the right track. Right where the man before the last man left them.