As is so often the case with clubs in the market for a new manager, Manchester United opted for a complete change of tact with the appointment of Louis van Gaal.
Many questioned whether David Moyes had the ego to manage an elite club like Man Utd. For van Gaal, his problem might be fitting his ego through the Old Trafford front door.
The German press once reported that the Dutchman would often march around the Bayern Munich dressing room declaring, “I am like God! I never get ill and I am always right" (via James Ducker of The Times).
“He is a super, super coach,” asserted Uli Hoeness, the former Bayern president, per Glenn Moore of the Independent. “His only problem is that he thinks he’s above God.” Sir Alex Ferguson was something of a dictator, but United’s players won’t have experienced anything like van Gaal before
It’s a far cry from the timid and reserved nature of Moyes, who never truly had control of his United squad at any point over the 10 months of his tenure. Louis van Gaal will take an iron-cast grip of his players.
Just like Jose Mourinho, players either love or loathe van Gaal. Fail to buy into his ideas and methods, and you will be shipped out. Zlatan Ibrahimovic once called him a “dictator” with “no sense of humour.” And should you misunderstand the Dutchman, he will drop his trousers to prove his point.
But it’s not just his persona that makes van Gaal perfect for United. His methods with the Netherlands at the World Cup demonstrate just how suited he is to the players he will have in his new job.
He tailored his approach for the game against Spain, deploying a 3-5-2 formation, which was as pragmatic as it was inventive.
United fans must have watched Holland’s sensational 5-1 win over Spain on Friday and pondered how van Gaal’s system would work at their club. Upon consideration, it could play to the Red Devils’ strengths.
It would also give Juan Mata a clear role within the team, something he lacked under Moyes. No longer would he be a square peg in a round hole. He’d have a hole all of his own.
Of course, reinforcements are still needed at Old Trafford this summer, and van Gaal seems to recognize as much, with Thomas Vermaelen set to become his first signing, according to a report in the Telegraph on Monday.
But going on the precedent of his ethos with the Dutch national team, van Gaal could have different ideas on how to ensure United don’t suffer another season like they one they just endured.
United is a club that prides itself on their willingness to give youth a chance. In the manager’s office at the club’s training ground, a print with the immortal words of Sir Matt Busby—“If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”—hangs on the wall.
He has placed his faith in youth at this World Cup, particularly at the back, where Daley Blind, Bruno Martins Indi and Daryl Janmaat have little in the way of significant top-level experience.
Furthermore, those young players have so far repaid their manager, performing well above expectations in the 5-1 thumping of Spain. He has a knack for recognising potential, as he has proved throughout his illustrious career.
Apart from anything else, van Gaal’s Holland side is entertaining, which will be refreshing after the generally turgid football brought to United by Moyes. Against Spain, the Netherlands hit quick on the counter attack, combining patient buildup play with a razor-sharp cutting edge. What football fan wouldn’t want that?
Old Trafford has missed the chaos their team used to generate. Ferguson’s style of play couldn’t be defined as clearly as that of Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, but it was chaotic, especially on the occasion United needed a late goal. That chaos looks set to return under van Gaal.
The man himself provided something of an insight into his footballing philosophy back in 2008, when he was manager of AZ Alkmaar.
“A coach always has to find a way to win,” he explained, according to Martin Lipton of the Daily Mirror. “My philosophy is to attack, always attack – to win by attacking your opponent on the pitch. I believe you should always entertain the public.”
Such is van Gaal’s self-belief that his words could soon join that of Busby’s on the walls of the manager’s office.