United suffered one of their most humiliating results in recent memory on Tuesday when they were thrashed 4-0 by MK Dons in the League Cup.
For the supporters who made the long trip down to Buckinghamshire, the idea of soon participating in a Champions League final will probably seem like nothing but a pipe dream.
But Van Gaal is sure that is where United are heading under his stewardship.
The Dutch coach, who has won European football's biggest prize with Ajax, is sure he can pick his team up this year and finish in the top four despite their poor start.
Van Gaal wants to win the Premier League in 2015-16 and he then has his sights set on being crowned European champions the following May.
"I hope we are in the top four this season because the Champions League suits a club like United, and then maybe the next step is to be champions and then the next step is to be the winners of the Champions League," the United manager said.
Given the way that his team crumbled against League One opposition three nights ago, Van Gaal clearly has a lot of work to do.
But that does not deter the 63-year-old, who is used to proving his critics wrong.
Manchester United v MK Dons (Reuters)
At Barcelona, the club stood 10th after 14 games of the 1998-99 season but ended as champions. With Bayern Munich 11 years later, Van Gaal's side were seventh after 13 matches but won the Bundesliga.
And not two months ago Van Gaal defied a wave of public pessimism to lead Holland to the semi-finals of the World Cup, where they lost on penalties to Argentina.
"When I started with the Dutch national team (in 2012) no-one believed we could qualify (for the World Cup)," Van Gaal said.
"After that they said we wouldn't have any chance to get through the group stage, and after that (they said) 'we'll lose against every opponent'."
Speaking at his press conference in Carrington to preview Saturday's meeting with Burnley, Van Gaal issued a very blunt response to a question about whether he has ever had any doubts in his own ability.
"No," he said, before then taking aim at his critics.
"I have read your articles and I was the king in the United States (where Van Gaal won five consecutive matches on tour).
"Now I am not, but I am the same Louis van Gaal with the same record and same philosophy."
But despite Van Gaal's optimism, and the record-breaking £59.7 million transfer of Angel di Maria, the facts paint a very bleak picture about the first three weeks of United's season.
In fact, United's start has been the stuff of nightmares.
Confidence within the squad has been hit by the draw at Sunderland and defeats to Swansea and MK Dons.
Gylfi Sigurdsson scores for Swansea City against Manchester United (Reuters)
And Van Gaal thinks the task ahead of him will not get any easier when he takes his team to Burnley on Saturday.
"They will play with a lot of passion, a lot of long balls, but you have to fight against it," he said.
"It will be a very difficult game but we have to show we can play football, that we can pass the ball in spite of the pressure of Burnley."
Van Gaal needed a gentle reminder that he managed at Turf Moor 22 years ago with Ajax.
Then, Van Gaal's team - which included the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk - beat the Clarets 1-0 in front of a crowd of 10,746 just six days after lifting the UEFA Cup.
"Yes, I was there!" Van Gaal said after pausing to think for a few seconds.
"We won. I took over there in '91, we won the UEFA Cup in the first season, in the second year we won the (Dutch) cup, and after the league.
"It was a step in the process."
This weekend will be a good barometer for judging how long that same process will take at United.
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- MK Dons