“It is death or the gladioli,” the United manager said when asked to sum up the third round match against League One’s bottom side at Huish Park.
Dutch road cyclist Gerrie Knetemann is thought to have coined the phrase in the 1970s and 1980s as the winner of Tour de France stages received a bouquet of gladiolus flowers.
Others believe it dates back to Roman times when gladiators who killed their opponents also received flowers.
Regardless of its origins, in layman’s terms the phrase means one thing — “all or nothing,” Van Gaal explains.
“You are dead or you receive the gladiolus flower. In cup matches it’s always like that.”
Van Gaal has won three domestic cups during his managerial career, but it has not always been a rosy picture for the 63-year-old when it comes to knockout competitions.
In 1996, Van Gaal experienced one of the most embarrassing results of his career in the KNVB Cup when his Ajax team lost to second division side SC Cambuur.
During Van Gaal’s ill-fated second spell at Barcelona, a team of internationals including Xavi, Michael Reiziger, Frank de Boer and Juan Roman Riquelme were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by third tier side Novelda in front of just 5,500 spectators.
That defeat was so painful for Van Gaal that he has consigned any memory of it to the dustbin
“I cannot remember anymore. It is wiped out of my mind,” he said. “But I do remember the criticism in Spain was very high after.”
Van Gaal was also ridiculed after his first experience of cup football in England when his United team were dumped out of the Capital One Cup in August following a 4-0 defeat to MK Dons. The Dutchman is eager to avoid another upset and he insists his players will not be complacent against a team that currently sit 65 places below United in the league ladder.
“We know from our early exit in the Capital One Cup that league places mean nothing in the cups. We will be prepared,” Van Gaal added.
“We have learned from the Milton Keynes game. Everything about playing a lower league team will be different — the pitch, the stadium. For the players, it’s more difficult to prepare for a match like this, especially after playing so much over Christmas.”
The Dutchman is well aware of the significance of the competition though — and is determined to go all the way. “It’s the shortest way to success,” Van Gaal said. “We are very interested (in winning it).”
Van Gaal will assess his players’ fitness before deciding whether to make changes from the XI that drew 1-1 at Stoke on New Year’s Day. Ashley Young will miss out because of a hamstring injury he sustained at Stoke. Van Gaal has no doubt Young suffered the injury as a result of the hectic schedule.
“Ashley Young couldn’t bear the load because... that (the schedule) is the reason.”
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