van Gaal gets busy erasing Moyes’ legacy

July 22, 2014 Tags: , , Opinion 20 comments
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There has been no word on David Moyes’ fabled iPad bunker. You know the one – the Scot’s replica of Everton’s Finch Farm transfer headquarters: whiteboard lists of targets and touchscreen analytics married effortlessly to interactive profiles on players from Aberdeen to Zenit St Petersburg. It was, we were told, the modernisation of United’s archaic recruitment process; one that had fallen behind under a system previously dominated by Sir Alex Ferguson’s old school contacts book.

Supporters were always skeptical of the claim. Not that Ludditism is prevalent on Old Trafford’s terraces, nor progress without merit, but simply because of the gusto with which executive vice chairman Ed Woodward set to spinning the change. Tablets and interactive profiles; PowerPoint tactics and ProZone analytics – all sound logic until it spews out Marouane Fellaini and 82 crosses. The computer really should have said no.

One suspects, although time will of course tell, that Louis van Gaal wouldn’t know an iPad from his elbow. Nor will the Dutchman feel the need to complete one of Woodward’s extensive ‘acquisition justification’ reports before blowing the best part of £30 million on a new player. There is smart scouting and then, at the risk of stating the obvious, there is common sense.

Yet, van Gaal is prepared to make progressive change. Woodward, for example, was more than happy to tell journalists on United’s summer tour in Los Angeles that the club will spend upwards of £3 million installing floodlights at Carrington alongside Desso synthetic-hybrid grass. The changes will enable United’s squad to train late into the winter evenings – and to do so on grass that is not unlike Old Trafford’s.

Still basking in the glory of the Dutchman’s appointment, Woodward is proffered significant slack for spin. For now. Not least because the former banker has at least delivered two high-profile players this summer, although this is a narrative that could turn before the window is out.

On the training field van Gaal’s impact has been felt immediately, where players not only enjoy the veteran’s intensive sessions, but all the more for the high proportion of ball work. That is always a favourite – and much in contrast to Moyes’ love of punishing long runs. After all, the Scotsman’s view on progress was seemingly confined to the office. On the pitch United’s tactical make-up too often mirrored the outdated training methods employed at Carrington.

Indeed, pre-season 2014/15 could hardly be more different than 12 months ago, with van Gaal at ease in the company of media scrutiny and comfortable with his extensive power. Nor is the Dutchman bothered by the commercial commitments foisted on his squad. van Gaal has even been pleasant – humorous some might say – with the embedded fourth estate. Moyes, by contrast, flitted from fear to the loathing of a man trapped inside his own anxiety, and playing out his deconstruction in the most public arena.

In other words, the former Netherlands coach is everything Moyes was not; a United manager in spirit not only name.

Yet, these are essentially ancillary concerns, albeit ones that will play a significant role in United’s success. The real tests are to come. After all, van Gaal is yet to lead his side into pre-season conflict, let alone the intensity of Premier League action.

On the pitch United’s opening game against David Beckham’s former club, Los Angeles Galaxy, takes place at the 92,000-capacity Rose Bowl in the early hours of Thursday morning. Player fitness and a bumper crowd aside, the real quarry will be in a first glimpse of van Gaal’s tactical outlook, albeit with a side that will not include Robin van Persie.

It promises to be an entertaining month, with a far more positive outlook than United’s legion support has become used to over the past year. Indeed, supporters can forget, for the moment, Netherlands’ pragmatic approach the World Cup. van Gaal has always been a manager with a philosophy; one based on the “most important thing” of “ball circulation” in which the “team that creates the quickest football is the best.”

This is, after all, a philosophy that chimes squarely with the ‘United way’. Glib observation perhaps, but one in which Moyes never fully found comfort.

Certainly, Wayne Rooney was quick to recognise the change in United’s LA camp, admitting that he must “train well and listen” if he wants to play a significant role under van Gaal. What a difference a year makes from the sycophantic pandering that enveloped the Englishman under Moyes.

“We all have to go out there and show what we can do and show every day in training what different qualities we have as players and a team. Everyone wants to impress a new manager and that’s what we’re aiming to do,” added the 28-year-old.

Still, there is much work to do. The Dutchman is yet to stamp his authority on United’s transfer business for a start, although that will surely come. van Gaal has already started work on trimming United’s ample fat. The former Barcelona coach signed off on Patrice Evra’s £2 million departure to Juventus this week, while he made no effort to retain Rio Ferdinand’s services, nor those of Alexander Bütner. Bébé will join Benfica, while the club will take almost any fee for the errant Anderson.

There are at least half-a-dozen other United players that will sleep uneasily on the club’s tour of LA, Ann Arbor, Denver and Washington. van Gaal may not yet feel emboldened enough to jettison Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young, Nani and Fellaini, but there is good argument to move on from each.

Incoming transfers will garner more headlines still. United is short an experienced central defender, energetic box-to-box midfielder, and high quality winger. These are faults on which Woodward will be judged if United remain short come September.

Then there is the upcoming debate over which player captains the side: van Persie, Rooney or a compromise candidate, the injured Michael Carrick, perhaps? Small fry in the big picture, but a decision that will generate controversy and perhaps even resentment. One suspects van Gaal cares little for either, and nothing for slaughtering previously sacred cows.

In the meantime the Dutchman is unlikely to be carrying a PowerPoint print out into the Rose Bowl on Thursday, let alone an iPad. Modern methods can abound elsewhere. The Dutchman is comfortable with an approach that has worked more often than not.


Vishrut Garg - July 22, 2014 Reply

Thanks for the article. Waiting for first pre season game.

Nishant - July 22, 2014 Reply

Great article again ed! I thought woodward did say all the right things during his MUTV interview. I wonder, however, if the confidence is more to do with the Adidas deal than the appointment of Van Gaal.

geoff - July 24, 2014 Reply

You right mate, Suddenly the mum ed woodward has started talking & even going to the extent of boasting of an unlimited transfer fees. The glazers must be the happiest lot with the adidas & other lucrative deals the club is getting. The club will continue to be their cash cow & when they have sucked the last drop of the last udders.

What do you think the agents of clubs with players we want are thinking when they hear that man united have an UNLIMITED TRANSFER BUDGET? isn’t it obvious that we will sign players at hyper inflated fees & then Edwoodward will be satisfied at the transfer records United would have broken.?

Am optimistic of course but am not euphoric .

Denton Davey - July 22, 2014 Reply

I suspect that LvG’s “plan” will be rather similar to the “hope” with which AgentMoyes started – get the team to be competitive on the pitch while overhauling the squad. He might talk about winning but his Job-One has to be getting back into a CL-position.

What’s striking about the LvG/Moyes comparison is the stark difference in their self-confidence. TheChosenOne was a rabbit-in-the-headlights whereas LvG is just brimming with self-confidence AND a long record of success in a variety of different venues.

One can’t help thinking that the manager’s personality is worth a lot – how many more points could TheLads have had with SAF or LvG as manager last year: ten ? fifteen ?? twenty ??? After all, in the 38 matches last year, UTD were pummelled a couple of times and simply out-classed against ManShitty (home-and-away) and @ Stamford Bridge – a match that was rather like one of those old-time black-and-white comedy films in which a little tyke flails away at his opponent who casually hold’s him at arm’s length.

Shit happens. There are 38 matches – 114 points. AgentMoyes’ best efforts to blunt the team’s attacking abilities was what hurt most. His appalling defensiveness led to home-defeats to the nearly-men – Everton and so on – who hadn’t taken points @ Old Trafford during almost the whole period of SAF’s reign (and others who hadn’t taken points from OT since SirBobby was running around the grass in short pants). I don’t think that LvG will send out TheLads with a brief to “compete” – they’ll be told that they’re expected to go out and win.

This change in mentality – or, perhaps, a reversion to SAF’s earlier, buccaneering ways – has to be connected to what LvG wants from the transfer market. It’s my opinion – and we all know what “opinions” are worth – that he’s likely to go for guys who have been in the trenches with him: guys like ConcreteRon (Vlaar) and NastyNigel (de Jong) who might not be glamour additions but they will stiffen the team’s on-field backbone

The other factor that has to be part of any “analysis” (emphasis added !) has to be the incredibly easy fixtures-list: the first six matches are against three promoted sides and three sides which only narrowly-avoided relegation last season. With 18 points up for grabs against the DeadMenWalking and no remotely-serious challenge before the beginning of October when TheLads play Everton – a strong start to the season should go a long way towards cementing LvG’s self-belief onto his squad. In a very real sense, UTD’s competitive EPL season doesn’t start for three months before which time there will be friendly exhibitions in July/August and then six “un-friendly” EPL matches. Again, the contrast with last year’s fixture-list – and AgentMoyes’ mewling whine about its “unfairness” – could hardly be greater. I think it’s realistic to expect UTD to be in first place at the beginning of October; and that’s a “bounce” that should augur well for TheLads when the sharp-end of the season gets under way in the following months.

Mongoletsi - July 23, 2014 Reply

Good post. Feel roughly the same. Nice use of “mewling” 🙂

MunroeL - July 23, 2014 Reply

Great article… but Cleverly deserves more of a chance with LvG. Also… what about Nick Powell?

the real deal - July 23, 2014 Reply

Woodward out there running his mouth about all this money we have on hand to spend. Where the hell are all the new players we are supposed to be buying? van Gaal does not have to look at these present players in pre-season friendlies to decide in what positions he needs to buy players. This is beginning to look like another Moyes era. This squad now is a hell of a lot weaker than last season with all our experienced defenders gone. What position will we finish this season? I do not see an movement in the transfer window to suggest we have anymore players coming in, only a lot of rumours and disappointments. The teams above us have just about finished their transfer business so whats our problem? If bullshit was money, Woodward would we richer than the Queen of England.

Denton Davey - July 23, 2014 Reply

“This squad now is a hell of a lot weaker than last season with all our experienced defenders gone.”

Rio/Pat/CaptainVidic are all NOW a year older. Rio was permanently semi-crocked; same for Nemanja – both were noticeably slower than in their glory days (c. 2007-2011). Evra was – and still is – a NinjaWarrior but he has been increasingly prone to going walkabout. I think that you’re vastly over-valuing their future contributions.

Ask a different question – would Rio/Pat/Nemanja be satisfied being bench-warmers, insurance against injuries to their first-choice successors. The time comes for all players to lose a step – or two; few accept that decline graciously, most sit on their laurels for two/three additional seasons.

FWIW the time has well-and-truly come to rebuild the back-four. With the addition of Luke Shaw – who is going to be a beast – it’s now-or-never for Smalling and I’m not convinced that MrJones can ever be a reliable central defender. Jonny Evans has a pretty impressive list of achievements WHEN he’s been healthy. It’s time for these three to live up to the expectations that SAF heaped upon them. If not, then UTD are in deep shit and having Rio/Vidic/Evra around would hardly extricate the team from that stinkhole.

MS Assefa - July 23, 2014 Reply

Cant wait to see Rooney to be put in his place (of a slightly above average and definetly not world class player) and hopefully shipped out with another of his overhyped compatriots, Phil Jones, with him. That in itself will be a great achievement by LvG for me.

Busby Boy - July 23, 2014 Reply

Excellent piece – absoultely on the money in terms of the change LVG brings and the contrast to Moyes.

The Lid - July 23, 2014 Reply

” the Scot’s replica of Everton’s Home Farm transfer headquarters”

* Finch Farm.


treble99united - July 23, 2014 Reply

Van Gaal certainly does use iPads. He used them during the WC and even had them on him during games

Ed - July 23, 2014 Reply

Think it was a tactics folder rather than an iPad. Even so – I think you may be missing the point!
Tactics folder

SBARB3R - July 23, 2014 Reply

Methinks that LvG is far from Luddite.

The Goat - July 23, 2014 Reply

always enjoy these articles. thanks.

i’m glad to see he’s looking at our youth before he buys anyone. I think rooney will explode under LvG and will be interesting to see who get’s into that final 23 players

Denton Davey - July 23, 2014 Reply

The issue with UTD’s “youth” is that there really isn’t an outstanding kid who can move into the first-team AND who is a defensive midfielder/central defender. The best ones are attacking midfielders or forwards – Nick Powell and James Wilson, especially – which is the area where the holdovers are strongest.

Nishant - July 23, 2014 Reply

Ben Pearson?

Denton Davey - July 24, 2014 Reply

Rothwell ???????????

who knows, eh ?

The Goat - July 24, 2014 Reply

I like Pearson, he has great potential but he needs more experience – maybe a loan out for a season

Zak - July 24, 2014 Reply

I am an Arsenal fan, but this is a superb site. Insightful analysis and intelligent commentary. Excellent writing too,

Hat tip.

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