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Trouble brewing between Van Gaal and sponsors?

At his first Manchester United press conference, Louis van Gaal took the unusual step of singling the sponsors out for a special mention. Twice. What was he up to?

Clive Mason

Sponsors are always present at press conferences. They're at the back, printed on the big board, hanging behind whoever's talking like really rubbish wallpaper. Nobody really notices them any more, but it's a space that costs a fortune and subconsciously makes you think better of Nikoflohubermisterpotato, so there they stay.

But they're not usually mentioned by anybody. One of the more intriguing aspects of Louis van Gaal's first press conference, then, along with the Carrick-bomb and the fact that he claimed the Eredivisie was better than Serie A on the grounds he'd managed there, was that he mentioned the sponsors a couple of times.

The first was pretty bland, an early shout for "how important the sponsors" are. Presumably that made Ed Woodward feel all warm and good inside. (Stop it, Ed. You've transfers to be getting on with.) The second, though, was more pointed. "It is not always possible to fulfil the commercial expectations and the football expectations."

Now, this could mean a couple of things. The first is a fairly uncontroversial note that if the club doesn't win, then neither the football nor the flogging of things will go well. But the second reading, a more entertaining option, is that Van Gaal was making a point about the incompatibility of the two. That the steps required to fulfil the commercial expectations may not chime with those required to fulfil the footballing aims; that one may inhibit the other.

Whether he was referring to anything specific here is unclear, but we note the recent resurgence of the rumours that United may take advantage of their absence from Europe to play midweek glamour friendlies in far-flung emerging markets. That's training time being eaten up.

There are managers who are happy to play the game the way the sponsors want to play it; to accede to pretty much anything as just a part of the reality of modern football. Van Gaal, it's probably safe to say, isn't one of them. There may be nothing here, of course, but it's just possible that there might be something brewing. And if so, who would you back? Messrs Woodward and Potato, or the Iron Tulip?