COMMENT: The 62-year-old coach takes over at Manchester United officially on Wednesday and the players, fans and media should prepare themselves for his tenure
By Peter McVitie
Be prepared, Manchester United and the rest of the Premier League. Louis van Gaal has arrived and his introduction is not going to be a subtle nor peaceful one.
The coach officially took over as manager of the Old Trafford club on Wednesday as he looks to repair the damage left by David Moyes and return the Red Devils back to the pinnacle of English and European football.
It’s not just United’s players and staff who will feel the wrath of the 62-year-old, though: the entire league and the media covering it will also come become targets of his aggressive and confrontational personality.
The former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss and his massive ego will storm through the doors of the Carrington training ground on Wednesday ready to begin work and make sure that everyone, not just in the club, but the land knows that he’s the boss, the elite, the king – the greatest mind the league will have ever seen.
Aggressive, confrontational and prone to outbursts and temper tantrums, there is no ceiling to Van Gaal’s arrogance and stubbornness. Indeed, he admits it himself and it doesn’t take long for it to shine through.
After exceeding all expectations at the World Cup with Netherlands, steering them to third place in the tournament through his wonderful tactical switches and man-management, the Dutchman will feel even more justified and cocky as he lands in England.
As far as the Dutchman is concerned, he has no equal. His belief that there isn’t a single person whose knowledge of football comes anywhere close to his will be a shock to all.
Furthermore, his outbursts in the dressing room will fill his players with fear.
“Congratulations on getting the best coach in the world!” he declared to the director immediately after his appointment as Ajax boss – his first job as a head coach.
“We have top players and, sorry, I’m arrogant, a top coach,” he said in a press conference years later.
Upon taking the helm at Bayern, he professed: “The mentality at Bayern fits me perfectly. Why? The motto here is “we are who we are.” And I am who I am: confident, arrogant, dominant, honest, hard-working and innovative.”
AUTOCRAT | There are few coaches as strict and demanding as Van Gaal
While the media will be surprised by his pretension and hubris, the players who have never witnessed this kind of management style first-hand before will be in utter disbelief.
In an attempt to make clear to his Bayern squad that there wasn’t one of them who was more important than the rest and that they were all secondary to his system, he insisted he “had the balls” to leave any one of them out of the team. Fearing they didn’t believe him, he decided to prove it.
“He wanted to make clear that he can drop any player,” Luca Toni told Bild. “It was all the same to him because, as he said, he had the balls.
“He demonstrated it literally [by dropping his trousers]. I’ve never experienced anything like it, it was totally crazy.”
That attitude is something that will shake up the squad at Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney, for one, so heavily favoured and idolised by the club, its fans and the previous two managers, that he was given bumper contracts and insight into the club’s financial strategy, might struggle to cope with the mass changes.
Van Gaal and his system will become the most important assets to the club. As far as he is concerned, everything and everyone else is secondary and equal – something the previously protected egos like Rooney may struggle to comprehend and adapt to.
Furthermore, coming off the back of a wonderful month in Brazil, the coach could be set to hand the captain’s armband to star striker Robin van Persie, which might not sit well with the former Everton man.
There’s more to Van Gaal than controversy, though, and he isn’t merely a man who rules the team with an iron fist, he has a more understanding and admirable side, even in the dressing room.
While he is incredibly demanding and strict, he has, Rivaldo aside, been able to build incredible relationships with his playing staff throughout his career.
Netherlands are a country notorious for dressing-room meltdowns and utter chaos which has hindered any hope of a success at major tournaments, but the Iron Tulip instilled a magnificent atmosphere in the Oranje dressing room.
Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and the like all fighting for each other and helping out the less experienced members of the squad as they went through to claim bronze in Brazil this summer.
On the field, his coaching record overall is quite phenomenal. Winning seven league titles with four different teams in three different countries is nothing short of remarkable.
However, he is much more than a man who delivers trophies wherever he goes. He brings entertainment on the field with his uncompromising attacking principles. He will never line up to grind out a result or to tailor to the opposition. He expects dominance; nothing else is acceptable.
Furthermore, his belief in youth is commendable. If the 62-year-old sees ability in a player, he will give him a chance regardless of age or experience.
It’s this doctrine which saw him lift his only Champions League trophy to date with Ajax, a team which consisted of rising stars including match-winner Patrick Kluivert (18), Clarence Seedorf (19), Edgar Davids (22), Marc Overmars (22), Michael Reiziger (22) and Nwankwo Kanu (18).
He also placed a great deal of trust in young players Memphis Depay, Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, Daley Blind and Georginio Wijnaldum at the World Cup.
|He wanted to make it clear he could drop any player because, as he said, he had the balls. He demonstrated it literally. It was totally crazy.”
– Luca Toni
Taking over in the Premier League has been a goal of Van Gaal before he retires, but his appointment is certainly not a short-term one.
Van Gaal doesn’t just bring success. Through the style he instils in the team and his faith in young players, he helps lay the foundations for a club to sustain the success that he achieves.
He will be a difficult personality to deal with for the board and players at the English giants but a side with long-term vision, which United have a tendency to adopt, will be able to build on what he installs there and will certainly reap the rewards.
For the club’s directors and players, as well as press and fans, Van Gaal is going to be a nightmare, but perhaps he can realise one or two dreams along the way.
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