MANCHESTER (Reuters) – Louis van Gaal says the visit of Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side to Old Trafford on Sunday will be extra special for the Manchester United manager as he greets his “modest” former apprentice.
The pair have maintained a close relationship since former Barcelona boss Van Gaal gave the self-styled ‘Special One’ some early coaching opportunities as the Portuguese worked under him for three years at the Nou Camp.
The Dutchman says he is not surprised at Mourinho’s emergence as one of the world’s best managers and feels privileged to have played a part in his development.
“I knew already he had talent because I let him do Catalunya Cup matches for me instead of my other assistants,” Van Gaal told a news conference on Friday ahead of the visit of the Premier League leaders.
“But to see that he’s such a wonderful coach and won in different countries, all championships, I think it’s fantastic.
“He has said (he learned from me) and it’s remarkable because in the football world not many people are talking about that. He says it is not only about Louis van Gaal but also (former Barca manager) Bobby Robson. I appreciate that but you always do it by yourself.
“He is very special for me because I’ve worked with him and we’ve continued our relationship which in the football world is not always normal,” added the Dutchman. “He is a very modest and emotional human being and I like that.”
The pair have only clashed once before in a competitive game when Mourinho’s Inter Milan beat Van Gaal’s Bayern Munich 2-0 in the 2010 Champions League final.
Hosting his former assistant on Sunday will be another difficult task for the United boss with Chelsea in devastating form, dropping only two points from their opening eight games to open up a five-point gap on nearest rivals Manchester City.
In contrast Van Gaal has endured a stuttering league start since taking over in the close season, with his side in sixth place in the table and 10 points adrift of Mourinho’s men.
“Jose has worked more than one year already with his team and last year they didn’t win any prizes so you have to build up and he has built up Chelsea,” said the Dutchman.
“They are playing like a team and I want my team to do that as well but to play for 90 minutes.”
United have been handed a boost with British transfer record signing Angel Di Maria deemed fit to face Chelsea.
The Argentina winger limped off when his team snatched a 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion on Monday but Van Gaal said he had trained ahead of Sunday’s match.