While Manchester United have been keen to see what their successor to David Moyes can offer up at the World Cup, Louis van Gaal’s unconventional decision to substitute his starting goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen in the quarter-final against Costa Rica will stand out as the most intriguing moment of the Netherlands’ campaign through the World Cup in Brazil.
United are in need of someone who can be brave, bold and take risks; a complete departure from the safety-first, dreariness of the short-lived Moyes era at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal’s decision to bring Tim Krul into the mix against Costa Rica for the penalty shootout highlighted his attitude as a winner, but also his fearlessness to take risks in high-stakes situations.
A year ago Manchester United were leaderless and rudderless. They gave no indication that the duo of Moyes and Ed Woodward had an idea of how to navigate through the summer’s transfer market, missing out on available high-value players, venturing down dead ends and landing a player on deadline day that spoke more of desperation than genuine footballing need.
What a difference a manager like van Gaal can make. He’s yet to arrive at Old Trafford, but the club’s officials have already been kicked into gear in landing Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, with more on the way.
The club also have issues that need addressing in the squad, namely the captaincy, which could well dodge the obvious candidate in Wayne Rooney for Robin van Persie. There is, of course, the problem of fitting all of the team’s attackers into a workable system, while a few of the club’s middle-of-the-road, uninspiring defenders also need to be put on the right path.
It isn’t a given that United will return to the top of the Premier League table in the next season or two. £200 million of spending will do something to drag the club out of the mire created during Moyes’ spell, but it also needs someone who can take the reins and push a squad to a point where they can be perceived to be punching in their weight category.
The Netherlands side have two supremely talented players, but they’re an uneven group. Prior to the World Cup, it could have easily been argued that van Gaal’s side wouldn’t feature in the final four, such was the strength of others and the lack of balance and experience in the Dutch team.
But United’s new manager has found multiple ways of countering those obvious problems. He’s tweaked formations; placed faith where it’s deserved, to much success; and made decisions that gave his side a psychological advantage over the opposition – as seen by the goalkeeping switch in the quarter-final shootout.
The loss against Argentina in the semi-final will do nothing to change the opinion of van Gaal. This is still one of Europe’s best winners. He turned a good squad into overachievers and created the impression that the Netherlands could win the tournament in Brazil. Their progression speaks greatly of the managerial qualities, the ruthlessness and the desire to win of van Gaal.
The club need a manager who isn’t afraid to be the manager of Manchester United, someone who won’t show his cards and is able to mask his emotions as he takes on the club’s overwhelming stature head on.
As unorthodox as he can be – and there is sure to be fireworks along the way – this World Cup has confirmed that United have landed the perfect candidate to lead the revamp at Old Trafford.