A season to forget has been ended with what will hopefully prove to be an appointment to remember. The short and ultimately ill-fated tenure of David Moyes has swiftly been brushed aside and the announcement of Louis van Gaal as the man to clean up the mess has finally come. And make no mistake, Moyes left a mess to be cleaned.
United’s season under the Scot materialised to be nothing short of a disaster, and with the Red Devils having fallen out of Europe altogether for the upcoming campaign, instant remedies are required. Moyes’ sacking, which followed an appointment predicated on longevity was a tacit expression that the wrong process had delivered the wrong man. As such, the parallels between the Scot and the new man at United’s helm are few and fleeting at best.
In contrast to Moyes’ appointment, which was made in reliance on the instinct of one man, Van Gaal possesses the name, the experience and, most importantly of all, the silverware that his predecessor so painfully lacked. At 63, the Dutchman’s appointment pays homage to a successful past as opposed to a gamble on potentially triumphant futures.
The process this time round was right; of the managers currently available, no-one can boast more trophies or big club experience than the Dutchman. Van Gaal is not potential, he’s proven, he’s not a trier, he’s a winner, and the strength of his resolve will provide the shake up and intensity that the club needs after a somewhat underwhelming campaign.
Ironically, Van Gaal’s biggest impact may come through his desire to implement his own style and methods on the club, something which Moyes was heavily criticised for doing. Gary Neville famously said that Manchester United would change David Moyes, and that David Moyes would not change Manchester United, but the Dutchman may just have the strength of character to deliver what his predecessor couldn’t.
The big difference, of course, is medals. When Moyes tried to do things his way, he stood in front of a club who had lived and breathed success for close to three decades, with no tangible success to offer of his own. It has become patently clear in the aftermath of his dismissal that the Scot never really commanded the respect of the players.
Louis van Gaal boasts a managerial record seldom rivalled in the modern game, which suggests that there is unlikely to be any such teething problems as he embarks upon his reign. The fact that the current managers of Barcelona, Chelsea, Ajax and Bayern Munich have all learned under the stewardship of the Old Trafford outfit’s new master speaks volumes. The players and the staff will respect him, and Manchester United will move forwards.
But what of the man himself? The image of a dictatorial tyrant ruling with an iron fist has invariably been painted of the Dutchman, but strength of character, perseverance, and coherent direction are exactly what the club needs. When speaking to Antony Kastrinakis of The Sun, an ex player of Van Gaal’s, Ronald de Boer remarked that, “Louis does not allow lack of direction”. A statement that will undoubtedly provide comfort to those who still lament the worrying lack of cohesion on display throughout Moyes’ tenure.
De Boer went on to add that “United players will have to get used to how strict everything is… everybody knows exactly where they stand… Louis says, ‘This is the way we’re going to follow. Are you with me or not?’ If they do, they never have a problem, if not they are out”.
Many advocate this purported ‘no-nonsense’ approach and the inevitable shake up of a few over-inflated egos on the playing staff to be exactly what is required, but to paint the Dutchman as a purely stubborn and divisive character is misguided.
De Boer believes that the former Barcelona man “will re-energise the big stars” and intimated as to the personable qualities of United’s new manager, asserting that “of course he laughs and makes jokes… Louis cares about you as a person”. No bigger illustration of these qualities is apparent than with the fact that Van Gaal used to drive Ronald and his brother, Frank, to and from training with Ajax everyday to help out their parents.
Van Gaal’s infamous stubbornness appears to have been greatly exaggerated, too, as de Boer explained:
“After we won the Club World Cup… he told me, ‘you didn’t play well’. I was stunned and disagreed totally and he said, ‘watch the video and come back to me’… but then the next thing I know, he’s watched the game back and he said, ‘you were right, you didn’t play that badly’. He’s not stubborn”.
In this regard, parallels with the great Sir Alex Ferguson have certainly been forthcoming. But it goes without saying that despite an often strict and disciplined approach, as he has proven on numerous occasions, Van Gaal possesses the man-management abilities to cope with the game’s top stars.
Perhaps most pertinent of all, though, will be Van Gaal’s attacking philosophy. Beyond the lack of previous success and experience, it was Moyes’ perceived negative approach that all associated with the club failed to buy into the most. So how will the Dutchman look to set United up?
Van Gaal has expressed his fondness and ultimate preference for a 4-3-3 system. He believes it allows for more attacking lines of play than any other formation, and it is one that has brought him success throughout his career. Noticeably though, the former Bayern Munich man has often demonstrated pragmatism and an ability to adapt to contemporary football.
Many will have been interested to note Van Gaal’s recent adaptation of a 3-5-2 system with Holland. It is a system that may well finally get the best out of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata at the same time. Pertinently, recent reports have suggested that United’s new manager has been at pains to make clear that Wayne Rooney forms an integral part of his plans, and that it is his desire for the former Everton man to finally form a fearsome and formidable partnership with Robin van Persie.
Van Gaal’s tactical approach remains to be seen and will be highly anticipated, but the underlying philosophy is unequivocal; possession with purpose. United fans will unquestionably see a return to the brave and cavalier style of play that has brought the club such success in recent years.
Another encouraging aspect of the Dutchman’s appointment is his inclination to provide youth with a platform. Van Gaal introduced the likes of Iniesta and Puyol to the Barcelona team, and the likes of Thomas Muller to the Bayern Munich side. The Dutchman believes in youth and aspires to develop talent. His philosophy is not just to use those at his disposal, but to improve them. In this regard an already blossoming Adnan Januzaj offers a tantalising prospect with a new manager whose style will undoubtedly suit his strengths.
It’s not all glitz and glamour, though, and the former Ajax manager has suffered some very indifferent seasons at the helm of the likes of AZ Alkmaar and even Bayern Munich. There is no such thing as guaranteed success in football, and despite the obvious qualities already discussed, the United Faithful should always remain cautious in their optimism.
A pivotal summer approaches and it is easy to forget that the club is still in a state of transition, one that was only delayed by a regrettable campaign under the stewardship of David Moyes. Once more patience is required, and it is essential that Ed Woodward demonstrates his worth over the summer as he must surely shoulder a lot of the blame for the failings of the last 12 months.
The big names are being bandied around in the papers and it is easy to get carried away, but United’s new manager needs to be backed and he needs to be trusted. The likes of Chelsea and Manchester City have necessitated United to spend in order to compete, and the club must respond in kind.
Nevertheless, one thing that has proved instantly encouraging and a welcome change from the PR disaster of Moyes’ reign is Van Gaal’s projected confidence and authority in everything he says. There is no more “we’ll try this” or “we hope to do that”, the Dutchman has expressed that he’ll “make history”, and on the evidence he’s more than capable of backing up his words.
Van Gaal has remarked that he is not worried of the pressures brought by Sir Alex Ferguson or the club, because no-one puts more pressure on him than himself. It’s an assertion that exudes a confidence, self-belief and winning mentality befitting of United’s traditions.
Time will tell just what impact the Dutchman will wield upon Manchester United, but with Ryan Giggs poised to take up a role as his assistant it appears that despite the club appointing a manager at 63 years of age, the future and longevity of the football club is still at the forefront of their minds. With the likes of Mourinho and Guardiola going on to achieve great success, it is hoped that Giggs may similarly one day emerge from Van Gaal’s tutelage as a successful manager in his own right.
When Moyes took over, in many instances there was apprehension and blind faith built upon commendable loyalty to a football club. As Van Gaal takes the reigns, apprehension has become excitement and blind faith has become confidence predicated on previous success.
The Dutchman has won 7 domestic league titles, one Champions League and one UEFA cup and with those added to a number of domestic cups, he boasts a total of 19 major trophies. All those associated with Manchester United football club will hope there are more to come.