Louis van Gaal doesn’t believe in egos and superstars, which probably explains why he has failed to get on with some of the biggest names in football in the past. He abhors those who oppose his managerial techniques – players and board members – and, as described by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, behaves like a dictator.
You have to wonder how far Wayne Rooney’s most recent contractual saga would have stretched. Had van Gaal been in charge at United, it’s likely the England forward would either have been made to stay on the coach’s terms, or he would have been sold.
But van Gaal is a winner. He’s meticulous in his approach to management. He knows exactly what he wants from his players and forces them into his system, rather than adjusting his methods to suit the players in his squad.
The current Netherlands coach is known to prefer the 4-3-3 formation, or a variation of it, seen at Bayern, with each player holding very specific duties on the pitch. What should be said about van Gaal is that he doesn’t allow passengers in his team. He wants defending and teamwork from the front (Luca Toni and Mario Gomez weren’t favoured by the Dutchman while at Bayern), he wants wide players to follow his oft-rigid instructions exactly – and based on his success rate in the past, it’s hard to argue against his methods. Intelligent football comes first.
What United desperately need at this time is a manager who can whip this squad into shape, or a modification on this squad following acquisitions this summer.
Van Gaal is known for having guided both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola in the early stages of their managerial careers, and the model currently in use at Bayern Munich is one that was introduced under the Dutch manager during his tenure from 2009 to 2011.
Does that mean United, if they land van Gaal this summer, are set to strut through next season and beyond with the swagger currently held by those in Bavaria and previously at Barcelona? Not quite. It’s no secret that it takes years of planning to develop a style currently on display at both FCBs. But what is absolutely certain is that van Gaal will make the players at United better, while also improving on the dire displays of much of this season under David Moyes.
Not only does he have a track record of getting the best out of his players, he’s also capable of working miracles, as seen by his Eredivisie triumph with an under-resourced AZ Alkmaar, who were closer to relegation than the title the season before, and, of course, the European Cup success with a youthful but immensely talented Ajax team.
Van Gaal’s success stories with youth in the past will bode well for United’s youngsters. Players like Tom Cleverley may simply be seen as expendable and not good enough. That interview held with The Mirror back in February won’t have helped the United academy graduate, with Cleverley unable to define what exactly his role is in the United midfield. As already mentioned, there are no passengers in van Gaal’s teams.
But it does mean that Phil Jones and Chris Smalling may finally get their careers at United off and running, both in and out of the team since arriving at the club, both suffering from injuries and inconsistency. The talent is there, notably in Jones, and a manager like van Gaal will be invaluable in their development.
Van Gaal isn’t without his shortcomings, though. For all the praise that can be lavished on the veteran coach, there are also concerns about his style that may rumble to the surface if he arrives at United this summer.
The Dutchman rarely leaves a club without first having made at least one enemy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a player, members of the boardroom or the local media. Van Gaal’s approach to management, strictly adhering to his principles, can land in him hot water, too.
What can be noted is the criticism Pep Guardiola has faced following Bayern’s 1-0 loss away to Real Madrid on Wednesday night. The Catalan coach is said to be doing too much to disrupt an effective winning machine, tinkering with a system to suit his own. As evidenced by Wednesday’s loss, it can be detrimental.
Van Gaal has suffered from similar problems in the past. It goes without saying that not every footballer can adjust to every tactical setup, while for those who can, it naturally takes time. Don’t be surprised then if van Gaal arrives at United and isn’t immediately racking up the wins.