The 62-year-old was appointed on a three-year contract on Monday and has a number of big issues to deal with including the captaincy and restructuring an unbalanced squad
By Greg Stobart
Just over a year after appointing a manager who had no silverware to his name, Manchester United have turned to one with 19 trophies to his and can now be confident they have hired someone who will lead them back to where they belong.
Louis Van Gaal is the complete opposite of David Moyes in virtually every respect – he feels a much better fit for United. The biggest club in English football now have a manager who thinks he is the greatest.
While Moyes came in looking overwhelmed and deferential, Van Gaal is already making bold proclamations about his plans for domination. The Dutchman has the arrogance and ego to be a leader at United, to fully step into Sir Alex Ferguson’s shoes.
His record at club level with Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AZ means he also has the CV to instantly command the respect of the players. The famous disciplinarian who once dropped his trousers in front of the Bayern players in order to show he “had the balls” to drop any of them will not indulge Wayne Rooney and Co.
Van Gaal, though, will know he has plenty of work to do and significant challenges to overcome. He inherits a United side that finished with the club’s lowest Premier League points tally and could only finish seventh in the table, 22 points behind winners Manchester City.
Replacing Moyes is a far easier task than replacing Ferguson – and the only way is up for United next season. With no European football, a top coach and a transfer budget of at least €185 million, United should finish in the top four next season and could even immediately challenge for the title again under Van Gaal.
The 62-year-old’s first priority – and he’s already started working on it – will be to assess the squad and decide who is dispensable and who he wants to bring in.
Van Gaal has already swung the axe and waved goodbye to Rio Ferdinand and, it seems, brought the curtain down on Ryan Giggs’ playing career, with the Welshman now set to work as the Dutchman’s assistant.
He will have to decide, too, whether he wants to also cut loose the likes of Patrice Evra, Tom Cleverley, Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernandez, Nani, Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Ashley Young. All could conceivably depart in the close season and even last year’s €30m signing, Marouane Fellaini, could find himself at a new club a year after moving to Old Trafford.
Van Gaal has already held extensive discussions with United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward about the players he would like to bring in. Work is understood to be underway on several transfer targets, some of which were identified during the Moyes era. Southampton left-back Luke Shaw is said to be a priority while Van Gaal has been linked to Kevin Strootman, with whom he has an excellent relationship, as well as Edinson Cavani, Mats Hummels and Toni Kroos.
Once he has assembled his squad, Van Gaal will also be required to appoint a new captain following Nemanja Vidic’s move to Inter.
Wayne Rooney looked set for the role under Moyes and Van Gaal will have to be careful politically with the England striker, who has five years remaining on a £300,000-a-week contract.
Van Gaal suggested last week that his preferred choice, though, would be to appoint his Netherlands national team captain Robin van Persie to the same role at Old Trafford and it would fit with his insistence that his captain must be someone he likes and admires as a person.
“Always, you make a player captain when you have more or less the same philosophy, not only about football tactics but also about life,” Van Gaal said. “So I think that’s very important. I believe that Van Persie and Van Gaal [have] the same philosophy.”
Since Van Persie’s move to United in 2012, it has always felt as though there is not room for both him and Rooney to shine. Both players want to play in the same position and they both want to be the main man in attack.
How Van Gaal deals with Rooney and the captaincy issue could set the tone for his three years in charge of the club. The Dutchman isn’t someone who adapts to accommodate superstars in his team, as far as he is concerned, there are none, as no player is more important than the system or the coach.
On the pitch, his priority will be to establish an attacking style of play and to improve the team’s home form after United suffered seven league defeats at Old Trafford this season.
As club after club ended their long winless streaks at Old Trafford, Van Gaal must make it a fortress once again. He will do so by asking his players to dominate the ball and push forward, most likely in a 4-3-3 formation.
Moyes tried to make United play like Everton and the results suffered. Van Gaal will look to play the United way – fast-paced with sharp wingers – and to re-install the famous winning mentality that appeared to totally disappear with Ferguson’s departure.
Van Gaal’s commitments at the World Cup – and the same applies for several of his players – means that United’s pre-season preparations will not function in an ideal manner.
In many ways, it would be better for United if Holland fail at the World Cup. The pre-season tour of the United States starts on July 17 – four days after the World Cup final – and Van Gaal will want as much time as possible to work with the players. There is a chance he might not even step foot in United’s Carrington training base until the second week of August.
Van Gaal will have to do all of this knowing that Ferguson is watching from upstairs and the Class of ’92 are waiting around the corner.
But he has the CV, the arrogance, the ideas and the balls to make it work.