Stam: Reds need to be in the Champions League

Thursday 31 August 2023 08:00

Treble-winning defender Jaap Stam feels his former club Manchester United are back where we need to be, in Europe's elite competition.

A stalwart of our historic success in 1999, Stam knows what it takes to win the UEFA Champions League and also recognises the financial power that its participants can enjoy.

Speaking to club media earlier this summer, the Dutchman said: "It's always great to be back in it. It's good for United as a club and it's good for the fans.

"They need to be in the Champions League. It brings in money for the club and maybe that can be used to make the team stronger as well.

"But it's not just about taking part, it's about making a difference in the competition. You want to go the whole way, not only play in the group stages and then be knocked out. It's about winning trophies at United."

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Stam's compatriot, Erik ten Hag, led the Reds back into the competition at the first time of asking by finishing third in the Premier League last term.

It means we can now look forward to the group-stage draw taking place at Monaco's Grimaldi Forum today (17:00 BST) with great intrigue as to which three sides we will face in the group stage.

"It's probably going to be Bayern Munich again, isn't it?" quipped Stam, who faced the German giants three times with United in 1998/99, including the final of course.

"I don't really mind [who United are drawn against] but it's always good to play against the best teams in Europe, for the club, but also for the players to show their ability and show what they can do."

A Bayern side including England captain Harry Kane are certainly among our possible opponents from Pot One. Also on that stellar list is another familiar name from Stam's road to glory in 1999, Barcelona, who the Reds faced again last season and defeated 4-3 on aggregate in a memorable Europa League play-off.

"That was good for the confidence of the club, to know they can compete with very big teams within Europe," reflected Jaap.

"Barcelona are more or less in the same situation as United, getting in certain players and building, to eventually get back to the level where they belong. 

"But you could see Barcelona were playing the way they always do, possession football with lots of one-twos. But United showed their quality as well, creating a lot of opportunities."

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While United's first priority will be to emerge from the four-team group decided by today's draw, Stam knows from his own experience of winning the competition in his first season as a Red that momentum and confidence can be built over the course of a campaign and don't necessarily have to be there from matchday one.

"When we won the Treble, we didn't even qualify for the Champions League straight away," the Dutchman recalled.

"We needed to play a qualifier [against LKS Lodz] at the beginning of the season to take part in the Champions League. 

"At the beginning of that season, I wasn't used to playing with the other players and playing under the pressure at a club like United. So I needed to get acquainted to everyone and get used to everything as well.

"That's why it's very important to have a good mentality within the squad, so you can eventually grow within the season and get the confidence and get the momentum going. That's very important for a team to be successful."