Louis van Gaal’s management qualities have never been in doubt; a CV including spells with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and a Champions League-winning Ajax side speaks for itself.
If David Moyes’ fatal flaw was struggling to shoulder Manchester United’s monolithic weight as one of the largest clubs in world football, in sharp contrast, his successor has forged a career out of handling big egos and even bigger expectations.
But having never plied his trade in the Premier League before, you would be excused for holding reservations over a manager whose reputation as a borderline psychopath tends to precede him – and often takes precedent over his trophy-laden managerial record.
Hence, the World Cup in Brazil is seen by many as the ideal opportunity for LVG to showcase his abilities with the Netherlands, before taking over official duties at Old Trafford. Thus far, the account van Gaal has given suggests he possesses all the right qualities to bring success back to Manchester United.
During Oranje’s opening World Cup fixture for example, a surprise 5-1 victory over Spain that will likely be remembered as the match of the tournament, LVG demonstrated a mixture of tactical astuteness and ambition that Moyes decisively lacked last season.
La Roja enthusiasts will argue a subsequent 2-0 defeat to Chile suggested Vincente del Bosque’s men entered Brazil 2014 intrinsically flawed, caught between the tica-taca philosophy of the old guard and the directness of inexperienced internationals breaking through, such as misfiring striker Diego Costa.
But in my opinion, Spain were ripped apart by simple yet precise and intentional direct passes. From the first minute to the last, the Netherlands knew that Spain’s arrogance in possession, pushing their defence up to the halfway line, would eventually cost them dearly. In other words, van Gaal had them sussed before a ball was struck and his game-plan proved true with tremendous effect.
Likewise, rather miraculously, making the right substitutions has become a major factor in Holland’s World Cup campaign. Interestingly, 29 of 154 goals scored in Brazil have come from the bench – an unusually high trend for an international tournament.
But in that regard, van Gaal’s Netherlands have been particularly proficient; the Dutch have recovered from 1-0 down to win on three occasions, with four of seven goals from their last three games coming via the bench. A unique phenomena of an incredibly unique World Cup, perhaps. Yet LVG’s ability to positively change a match in his favour should not be overlooked.
Furthermore, a major concern for Red Devils fans last season was their side’s lack of goals. 64 from 38 league fixtures is by no means disappointing, but compared to Manchester City and Liverpool, both of whom finished up with over 100 goals each, it’s understandable how David Moyes quickly became viewed as a dangerously pessimistic manager.
Thus, Louis van Gaal will bring a return to more free-scoring traditions at Old Trafford. Not only were his Oranje outfit the top scorers in World Cup qualifiers, netting an outrageous 34 times in just ten matches, but they’ve also transitioned that proficiency into the World Cup. Their twelve goals from four matches is only rivalled by Colombia with eleven, whilst the rest of the pack, including hosts Brazil (9) lay some way behind.
A major factor in that goal-getting philosophy has been the form of Robin van Persie. In my opinion, another manager taking the Carrington helm could have soon resulted in the Dutchman’s departure – fitting him, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata into the same starting line-up is a disturbing conundrum yet to be solved; now 30 years of age, the former Arsenal star is by far the most expendable.
But if LVG can motivate the Oranje captain to maintain his World Cup form into next term, then issues of age or wage packages are relatively moot. The two have a unique bond, and the last time van Persie reached an equilibrium of fitness and form, he fired the Red Devils to their 13th Premier League title.
But perhaps most importantly of all in regards to Manchester United – a club whose ethos was once immortalised by Alan Hansen’s ill-fated quip, ‘you can’t win anything with kids’ – van Gaal has constructed an impressive Netherlands side, despite lacking the quality of its many predecessors, centred around the ambition, fearlessness and energy of youth.
Just one player in the entire squad, Dirk Kuyt, is over the age of 30, whilst over half of the 23-man roster are 26 or under. Joel Veltman, Memphis Depay, Daley Blind and Stefan de Vrij to name a few have all been given the opportunities to impress, and thus far have completely thrived.
Of course, international football is incredibly different to club football and the expectations of the Netherlands national team can’t be justifiably compared to that of the most dominant club in the Premier League era.
But thus far, van Gaal’s efforts at the World Cup, through his impetus on youth, ambitious philosophy and astuteness to tactical detail, suggest he is everything the Red Devils want and need in a manager. Should those three integral pillars of management style be transitioned into his Manchester United tenure, a club which has consistently championed the promotion of young players and an attacking mentality, it won’t be long before the Premier League title returns to Old Trafford.