Louis van Gaal: The right man for Manchester United
Louis van Gaal’s appointment as Manchester United manager has been met with unanimous approval from the footballing world. His appointment, of course, doesn’t come as a surprise, after weeks of speculation that van Gaal was the man being entrusted, by the Manchester United board, with the task of rebuilding Manchester United. And make no mistake; it is going to be no easy task to do so after the wretched season that the club has endured.
The fact that United finished the league in 7th place is bad enough- their lowest since the start of the Premier League era- but the lack of Champions League football at Old Trafford next season is a huge blow to the club. The very top players in Europe crave for Champions League football, and with United missing out on the Champions League, it might be difficult to lure those top draw players to Old Trafford.
So, the question is whether Louis van Gaal is the right man? Before I answer that, I would like to go back to last season. David Moyes was hand-picked by Sir Alex Ferguson to be the manager of Manchester United, and we can safely say that the “experiment” went horribly wrong. Moyes was facing an uphill battle right from the very first day that he became Manchester United manager. He was entering a dressing room full of players with numerous medals to their name, whereas he himself, had won nothing in his long managerial career.
Right from the very beginning, the players at Manchester United seemingly looked down upon Moyes, a man who had achieved nothing in their eyes and as a result, were constantly undermining his authority. That, for a start, shouldn’t be a problem with van Gaal. He has not only had the experience of managing big clubs and players before but has also had glittering success. He has an impressive CV, with the list of teams he has managed being Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the Netherlands. He also has the distinction of nurturing the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, who have gone to become successful managers in their own right.
While he does have plenty of virtues, he also has, over the years, become notorious for his over the top disciplinarian methods. There is a famous story about van Gaal at Bayern Munich. He had set two major protocols for team meals: players must eat in the same space every day and must sit up straight. A few weeks into his regime, he found Luca Toni slouched in his seat at lunch one day and shouted at Toni across the canteen. When Toni seemed to take no notice of van Gaal, he stormed across and confronted him head on, leaving no doubt as to who was in charge.
There were a few blunders made by David Moyes last season, which van Gaal would do well to not repeat. First of all, Moyes ousted every member of Ferguson’s successful staff and brought in his own staff. It left a gaping hole in the coaching structure with Moyes’ entire staff needing time to acclimatize to their new surroundings. van Gaal, by the looks of it, has avoided making the same mistake by bringing in Ryan Giggs as his assistant, who is extremely popular with the players and knows the club inside out.
Another issue last season was the fact that with the change in management, Moyes could start his work only as late as July, and with the intention of giving the existing players a fair chance, took too long to bring in new players. van Gaal is confronted with a similar problem as he’ll be busy with Netherlands in the World Cup and will be able to start work only in mid-July. There is no doubt that a lot of the current Man United players have reached their end, and there is a need for a major overhaul to the squad. van Gaal would already have a fair idea of the type and quality of players needed and the hope is that Ed Woodward, Manchester United chief executive, can take a more hands-on approach regarding transfers and try to bring in players of van Gaal’s wish as early as possible.
While van Gaal does appear slightly eccentric at times, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he possesses an extremely sharp, astute football brain. His philosophy of football is possession based, and he believes in high, intense pressing of the opposition when not in possession, a philosophy he inherited from his days at Ajax in the 1970s. He went on to implement that philosophy at Barcelona and set up the platform for success, for the likes of Pep Guardiola who, in turn, took it to its conclusion. He also played a vital role in bringing through club stalwarts like Carles Puyol, Xavi and Victor Valdes from the youth team at Barcelona, believing in promoting and developing youth talent rather than spending heavily in the transfer market all the time, a belief shared by Manchester United, as a club, as well.
While van Gaal is perceived to be stubborn and hard-nosed, he also has a less known emotional or paternal side to him. He is keen to know everything about his players- from their wives’ names to their children’s birthdays- believing in acting as a guide to the players not just on the field but also off the field which, in his eyes, strengthens team unity.
The competition in the Premier League is increasing every year, with 4-5 teams challenging for the title every season. In such a competitive situation, there is no doubt that van Gaal, a man who revels in facing competition and tough challenges, is the right man for the job. While his highly confrontational style, which has the potential of alienating players, means that he might not last in the job too long, he would ensure that he gets Manchester United back to where they belong by then.