Tag Louis van Gaal

Tag Louis van Gaal

van Gaal rises to his greatest challenge

May 19, 2014 Tags: , Opinion 19 comments
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There is a tendency to view Manchester United’s future in one of two extremes: those who believe the sky has fallen in on a once great empire, and observers who hold true that all ills have been cured by dismissing David Moyes. As ever the truth lies at neither poll, although it is axiomatic to suggest Louis van Gaal faces his greatest challenge. More than 20 years, 19 trophies and six jobs into a stellar coaching career, van Gaal signs as United’s manager with little guarantee of replicating the success of his past. Or United’s.

Indeed, Moyes’ failure highlights not only the 51-year-old Scot’s shortcomings, but inadequacies in the club’s playing resources and structure too. Such was the fall from grace – and performances so downtrodden in the season past – that it is naïve to presume van Gaal’s arrival alone will restore United’s glory.

The Dutchman spoke this week of a desire to fulfil the club’s “big ambitions” and put forward a promise to “make history together,” but his challenges are multifaceted, starting with, but certainly not limited to the team.

Moyes’ failure exposed structural and political challenges in United’s hierarchy, subdued by Sir Alex Ferguson’s brilliance, and catalysed by the former Evertonian’s incompetence. The club’s parsimonious investment strategy, commercial prioritisation, and supporter exploitation have become the new ‘United way’. It is a reality that will dawn on van Gaal soon enough.

Indeed, almost a decade of underinvestment, compared to rivals at home and abroad, precipitated a sure but gradual degradation in squad quality. That the spine of a once great United team – Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidić, Patrice Evra, Ryan Giggs – will each leave United this summer is testament to a failure in long-term squad management.

Yet, politically, United is now run by the commercial rather than football departments – highlighted by Ed Woodward’s ill-advised push to sign Paris Saint Germain’s Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani this summer. Not for the player’s undoubted quality, it seems, but for the ‘superstar’ status his signature might confer.

Sponsorship outreach often trumps playing requirements as Moyes found to his frustration during last summer’s Asian tour. It is also a truism that United’s most recent high-profile signings have each brought home the lack strategy; Robin van Persie acquired out of expediency, Marouane Fellaini through desperation, and Juan Mata for little better reason than opportunism. Moyes’ forthright assessment of United’s scouting department may actually prove a boon to the club over the longer piece.

This summer’s transfer market will be a proving ground for whether United’s months of preparatory work will pay off, or whether desperation and incompetence will once again take hold. van Gaal’s dogmatic personality may provide the stimulus to challenge an in-grained status quo.

Still, it is on the pitch where van Gaal must do his best work, with challenges existing in every position bar David de Gea’s, although nervous glances will certainly be cast toward Madrid and Barcelona in the coming months if Ilker Cassilas’ future is not resolved, or if Marc André ter Stegen proves a failure at Camp Nou.

The Dutchman’s old maxim that he is not “the kind of coach who just goes out and buys players for the sake of it” and that his methods “can improve players” will certainly be tested. Nor is the conclusion that United “have to turn it around 360 degrees,” adrift according to Dutch coach Ronald de Boer. “But if there’s a man who can do it I would say van Gaal is the man,” he added.

In the back four the Dutchman faces three departures in Ferdinand, Vidić and Evra – more than 1100 United appearances between them. Luke Shaw is set to arrive for just shy of £30 million, although entrusting United’s left-flank to a rookie and Alexander Büttner is a risk van Gaal may wish to hedge.

Centrally neither Phil Jones, Chris Smalling nor Jonny Evans can claim an unblemished performance or injury record; an experienced acquisition is required. The same observation can be made of Rafael da Silva, whose performances and fitness have deteriorated over the past 12 months.

As ever it is in midfield where van Gaal’s brilliance and United’s financial muscle must be felt. There is little guarantee Michael Carrick’s performance levels will return after a campaign of such complacency that omission from England’s party to Brazil was both inevitable and fully earned. Meanwhile, Darren Fletcher is unlikely to compete with the continent’s best again, while Anderson and Tom Cleverley will find new homes this summer if adequate buyers can be found.

The same might be said of eternal misfit Nani, while there are surely few in van Gaal’s rebuilt coaching team – including new assistant Ryan Giggs -that hold positive observations of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia’s recent performances.

Up front the new manager enjoys greater riches, although he must find the attacking balance that extracts greatest value from van Persie, Mata, Shinji Kagawa, Adnan Januzaj and Wayne Rooney. Local boy Danny Welbeck’s role requires definition, while Javier Hernández can surely not countenance another season as an infrequently used reserve.

In the market United will be tested by van Gaal’s lengthy absence as the World Cup plays out this summer, while rivals will attach a premium to any player on which the club has designs. Woodward’s regular briefings to the sizeable extent of United’s investment pool guarantees few straightforward negotiations ahead.

The new manager also has a history of gravitating towards players he trusts; it may narrow the scope of players United is competing for this summer, to say little of Woodward’s budget-busting obsession with landing that marquee signing.

“We didn’t talk about money, we talked about the players I want,” van Gaal told Dutch TV on Monday.

“We’ll have to see if we can get them. We also talked about who can go. The aim is to bring United back to the number one position as soon as possible, because that’s where they were under Sir Alex Ferguson. United is the biggest club in the world marketing-wise, but if you look at their budget they have to finish high.

“So that’s the goal. And the goal is that you not only do it with stars, but also with youth players.”

van Gaal certainly boasts an unenviable record in promoting youth. United’s successful reserve side, which finished winners and then runners-up in the Premier League Under-21 competition in the past two seasons, may prove an attractive pool. In James Wilson, Michael Keane, Jesse Lingard and Tom Lawrence van Gaal has a quartet likely to push hard for inclusion over the next 12 months. Reserve Player of the Year Saidy Janko could offer support to Rafael, while a decision is yet to be made on Wilfried Zaha’s future. Ángelo Henríquez and Nick Powell may also look on with hope.

Nor will the veteran be persuaded by reputation if history is any barometer. van Gaal once faced down Bayern Munich striker Luca Toni by dropping his trousers in a literal interpretation of a popular idiom. The new manager’s reproductive organs are indeed sizeable. The precious, complacent and previously infallible in United’s squad – there are many – will be driven out of Manchester.  After the past year few can hold a legitimate complaint.

Nor will there be room in van Gaal’s side for those unwilling to fit into a philosophy and tactical system that bends first towards the team ethic. It is a principle that has largely been absent over the past season much to Moyes’ chagrin – and considerable fault.

Moreover, specialists, such as Kagawa, Mata and Hernández, or those unwilling to place the team’s positional requirements first, may find the adjustment challenging.

“You have to play as a team, and not as an individual,” van Gaal once said. “That’s why I’m always looking at the vision, then the team, and then who fits in the profiles that I make for all the positions in my system. A system depends on the players you have. The philosophy stays the same though.”

Indeed, while van Gaal has often deployed a typically Dutch 4-3-3 he is prone to adapt to the resources at hand. This flexibility has prompted former Ajax coach to deploy a 3-5-2 system with the Dutch national team at the World Cup this summer.

He will need that kind of innovation and more at United. Yet, in an époque when change is coming to Old Trafford, it is a task for which van Gaal is distinctly qualified. It is a challenge among the Dutchman’s most difficult. One suspects he’ll enjoy it.

Brilliant van Gaal must prove he is the right man at the right time

May 11, 2014 Tags: Opinion 12 comments
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Legend has it that Louis van Gaal greeted appointment to his first management job with the boast: “congratulations on signing the best coach in the world.” It is one of those quotable moments where the subtly is perhaps lost in the passage of time. Still, if the Ajax board didn’t believe the rookie coach in 1991 some seven years and 11 major trophies later there was little doubt they had become apostles.

In the intervening years van Gaal has proven brilliant and destructive in not always equal measure. There have been spells at Barcelona, AZ Alkmar and Bayern Munich, and twice with the Dutch national team. The 62-year-old earned trophies and enemies at each bar the Oranje, where silverware has not been so easy to find.

Still, he is eminently comfortable in a small group of élite managers who offer service to the continent’s largest clubs. van Gaal will surely prove far more than just the safe pair of hands required in the aftermath of United’s disastrous David Moyes experiment.

The Dutchman is likely to be formally announced as Manchester United’s new manager in the coming week – an open secret held up only by contractual details and ongoing discussion over staffing. He will be United’s 23rd manager. The first from outside Great Britain or Ireland.

Yet, van Gaal joins a club at its lowest ebb since Ferguson shipped in from Aberdeen nearly 30 years ago. After all, the Reds finished the Premier League campaign on Sunday with a draw at Southampton, leaving the side some 24 points adrift of title winners Manchester City – a 33 point swing from this time a year ago.

So poor has the campaign been that United will play no European football next season for the first time in 24 years; not even in the massively expanded Europa League, the continent’s second tier.

It leaves van Gaal with a multi-faceted job: to rebuild a side, to take control of a dressing room that has bordered on mutinous this season, and to restore significantly more than pride in the months to come. It is, despite United’s size and wealth, one of the veteran’s greatest challenges. The essence is to prove that van Gaal is not only the right man, but appointed at the right time.

It is a challenge unlikely to daunt one of the game’s more worldly coaches. In more than 20 years as a front-line manager van Gaal has built a reputation not only for an arrogance born of total belief, but of a work ethic equally compelling.

van Gaal first became assistant to Leo Beenhakker in 1988 serving a three year apprenticeship at Ajax before taking over as head coach. It would prove to be the Amsterdam club’s most successful period since Johan Cruyff’s led Ajax to three European titles in the mid-1970s.

Under the Iron Tulip Ajax became Eredivisie champions three times from 1994 to 1996, completing the first campaign unbeaten at home and abroad. van Gaal’s youthful Ajax side captured the Champions League in dramatic fashion, securing a 2-0 victory over Milan in the Vienna final. It would add to the side’s multiple domestic cups, the 1992 UEFA Cup, and the 1995 Intercontinental Cup.

“We are the best,” declared van Gaal after Ajax’ 4-3 penalty shootout victory over Gremio in the Intercontinental final. “Not just of Amsterdam, but also of Rotterdam and Eindhoven and Europe. And now we are the best of the world.”

It was a period in which the manager built an obstinate, media-adverse and overtly eccentric reputation. And when genius flourished too; an époque in which van Gaal promoted youth – Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp, the de Boer brothers, Edgar Davids, Michael Reiziger, and Edwin van der Sar – and was richly rewarded.

“He was sharp tactically. He paid attention to the tiniest details which gave us advantages in games,” said striker Jari Litmanen.

“He was the perfect teacher. With him, we listened, we learned, we won. He’s a tough man, but at his level you don’t get by with a smile and a few kind words.”

Neither reputation has left the coach in the intervening years – tough and brilliant in equal measure. Yet, they were qualities that took van Gaal to Barcelona in 1997 – and more silverware in a combustible three year spell at Camp Nou.

Barça secured La Liga in 1998 and 1999, although the Champions League went to Real Madrid, United and Bayern during the period. Off the pitch the Dutchman repeatedly clashed with the press and players alike. World Footballer of the Year Rivaldo was said to have repeatedly undermined his manager by refusing to play on the left side of van Gaal’s preferred ‘Dutch’ system.

The notoriously fickle Catalan media were hardly any more supportive. “Friends of the press. I am leaving. Congratulations,” said the coach with no little sarcasm in May 2000 after Los Culés surrendered La Liga to Deportivo de La Coruña.

It was perhaps the first time van Gaal has tasted failure during a decade in management, although not one that would irrevocably destroy his reputation in Spain. Not yet at least.

“The trainer I learned most from about the field of play was van Gaal, even though he’s the one I’ve had the most confrontations with,” said former Barça midfielder Luis Enrique. It has become a common refrain.

If Catalonia ultimately brought disappointment far more came in the nine years following the Dutchman’s departure from Camp Nou. Two disastrous years with the Dutch national team ended in the Oranje’s failure to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. van Gaal was then unceremoniously sacked six months into a return to Barcelona, with the side fourth from bottom of La Liga.

Compounding the manager’s fall from grace van Gaal was forced to leave a position as Technical Director at Ajax less than a year into the post in 2004 – boardroom politics demonstrating once again that where the dogmatist is concerned conflict rarely ends in détente.

Redemption can follow a fall though. For van Gaal AZ Alkmaar proved an unlikely club for one of Europe’s elite coaches, yet one where success was achieved on the precipice of failure. Three seasons into the job AZ finished 11th in Eredivisie bringing an offer of resignation. The players, so legend has it, refused to countenance van Gaal’s departure and secured the league title the following May. No mean feat for a club whose average gate rose barely above 15,000 during van Gaal’s reign.

It brought another shot at the big time, with Bayern calling in 2009. FC Hollywood brought silverware and tantrums once more, as if van Gaal is a magnet to both.

“Who has the best defense?” asked van Gaal after securing the 2010 Bundesliga. “FC Bayern. Who has the best attack? FC Bayern. And that’s why we are champions and not just in München also in Gelsenkirchen and also in Bremen and in Hamburg. We are the best in Germany and perhaps soon in Europe.”

It was a familiar refrain. Yet, José Mourniho’s Internazionale put an end to that European dream just a few weeks later. Inside a year Bayern’s board cancelled van Gaal’s contract as Der FCB slipped to third in the Bundesliga amid yet more dressing room angst and tactical intransigence. United’s players have been warned.

“It can be that he is a bit arrogant, but if you treat him with respect, then respect comes back to you,” said Bayern director Franz Beckenbauer last month.

“In the end there was a little discussion about the way he was handling his job so that’s why they went separate ways — but for me he’s one of the best. He would be perfect for Man United.”

That fit is a jigsaw puzzle of challenges: to rebuild a squad that will shed up to half-a-dozen players this summer, integrate what is likely to be an extensive programme of acquisition, and find the right balance of tactical philosophy and pragmatism given the resources at hand.

Indeed, the smart money suggests that United’s board – and supporters – will require a modicum more patience than was afforded an admittedly failing Moyes. It should surprise few if the new man is guided by the same single-minded and sometimes inflexible determination that has coloured a career.

The Amsterdam-born veteran will instigate change at Old Trafford. It may not suit all. Not least those that do not, cannot, or will not adapt to van Gaal’s way. It is a gamble by United’s board: that the Dutchman is significantly better equipped to drive through change than Moyes. History suggests they have chosen well, but not without risk.

Yet, van Gaal will not begin his new job on the backfoot. In Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj the new manager is afforded a talented attacking quintet as good as any. United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward is charged with adding yet more to the talent on offer.

And there are few better than the Dutchman to fashion a new side. This man who is “confident, arrogant, dominant, honest, hard-working and innovative,” all at once.

His words. United will need all of them.

Reds seek reason to include ‘1992 Committee’ in van Gaal’s new United

April 30, 2014 Tags: , Opinion 18 comments
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The “1992 Committee” – as fanzine Red Issue recently dubbed Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville – scored something of a victory when David Moyes was dismissed as Manchester United manager last Tuesday. It is not that the quartet had actively sought the Scot’s removal, although there has not been word of protest as Moyes left Old Trafford, but that Giggs so smartly maneuvered his group into position to take over.  Indeed, such has been the fever greeting the Welshman’s appointment as interim manager this week that there is a new question – a key one at that: what role does Giggs and his ‘Committee’ take in a new, possibly Dutch, regime?

After all, Giggs may have been in the job only a week, but there has been a sense of genuine gravitas each day of the Welshman’s short reign. Giggs has demonstrated far greater poise in seven days, in fact, than Moyes had any point during 10 months in charge. The interim manager’s positivity in front of the press last week was then reflect in a decisive team selection for United’s victory over Norwich City at Old Trafford, and sensible in-game changes to ram home the Reds’ advantage.

Yet, while Giggs has proven to be a leader, his managerial qualities remain an enigma. There is little substance to a bandwagon that is rapidly gaining momentum. While Giggs has history and personality, there is little else on which to prop appointment to one of the world’s top jobs.

Still, the ease with which Giggs has slipped into Sir Alex Ferguson’s shoes is underlined by the glowing references offered by senior voices in and around the club. Giggs, said Wayne Rooney, has “all the credentials” to take over full time. Anders Lindegaard went further, comparing his team-mate to Pep Guardiola. Gary Neville outright called for the Welshman to be offered the job.

It seems unlikely Giggs’ ample fanbase will be rewarded though, with United privately unwilling to countenance a risky appointment after the damaging Moyes experiment. Yet, there is little doubt Ed Woodward and the Glazers are desperate to keep the 40-year-old former winger in some capacity – perhaps even to breaking point as a deal with manager-in-waiting Louis van Gaal is thrashed out.

It provokes an observation: if United fail to offer Giggs the manager’s job outright, could the Welshman bring ‘a lot of heat at the bottom of the ticket’ in an assistant’s role? It is a thesis bastardised from Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing, but appropriate nonetheless given Giggs’ ample demonstration of political nous. So much that there is much weight to the belief that van Gaal may not want Giggs involved in a material way.

Indeed, the role of 1992’s cohort is perhaps central to ongoing negotiations with the Dutchman.  van Gaal is keen to bring Danny Blind, Patrick Kluivert and a substantial Dutch entourage to Old Trafford; United’s executives remain resolute that a link between management and the Reds’ rich history is maintained.

This is in part a lesson from Moyes’ disastrous era, when the Scot replaced much of United’s coaching team with a quartet of colleagues from Everton – a move that precipitated damaging splits within the club. It is also commercial reality, with the ’92 group marketable in a fashion van Gaal’s team is not.

Still, Giggs’ candidature holds little more than sentiment at this point. He may have spent 25 years under Ferguson’s tutelage, but there is no team-building experience, nor work undertaken in the transfer market, to say little of a tactical outlook of which few have any real knowledge. The argument that a summer of significant rebuilding should be pushed through by a novice is as open to a charge of naivety as Giggs is raw.

These are solid doubts amid the emotion that Giggs’ promotion fosters. Yet, those prominent voices are ready to look beyond the coldly rational to a less prosaic outcome.

“What we have seen in the first week has been more than convincing,” wrote Lindegaard this week.

“The similarities with Sir Alex Ferguson are striking. Some would question whether you can go from being a team-mate one day to a manager the next. Normally I would have reservations, but in the case of Giggs it is different.

“His latest speech, before the team went onto the pitch for the Norwich game, made my hairs stand on end in a way that I have only ever experienced from Sir Alex Ferguson: Do not disappoint the fans!”

Neville went further still, first calling for the installation of a “British” manager at Old Trafford, and then naming Giggs as his preferred choice. Experienced or not, the bandwagon is rolling strongly in the Welshman’s favour and Giggs would not hesitate in accepting an unlikely call.

“Let him have two or three more games to see whether he can bed in and be given that role,” said Neville.

“Ryan hasn’t got experience but he knows the club. There’s the idea that Van Gaal has massive experience, but doesn’t know the Premier League. The owners want an experienced hand, but I personally would like to see a British manager be appointed.

“There’s the idea of managers who have one or two good seasons like Jose Mourinho. It worked for Chelsea and then Andre Villas-Boas didn’t. Ryan’s got no experience but then is Van Gaal going to work? We don’t know.”

Despite van Gaal now being rated as the odds-on favourite to secure a three year deal the club is reportedly open to other candidates. The due diligence process is undoubtedly sensible whatever the dearth of available candidates this summer.

With Mourinho tied to Chelsea, Guardiola unlikely to leave Bayern Munich and Carlo Anchelotti now safe at Real Madrid, United’s options have narrowed. Atlético Madrid’s Champions League final coach Diego Simeone and Antonio Conte – three-time Serie A winner with Juventus – are high-quality, if unlikely alternatives.

The smart money remains on the Dutchman, although he might not be available until late July or early August when Holland head home from this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Moreover, van Gaal’s intermediaries have made it clear that the 62-year-old is entirely focused on the national team from 7 May onwards. In this there is another problem for Woodward to solve: how United is to be highly active in the transfer market without a coach in place.

For the moment this is of little concern to Giggs, interim manager. But if negotiations with van Gaal break down the Welshman and his Committee will be ready to step in once again.

Poll: who do you want to be United’s next manager?

April 28, 2014 Tags: , , Polls 40 comments
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The king is dead. Long live the king.

David Moyes was rarely in total control during 10 chaotic months in charge at Manchester United. Ryan Giggs, it turns out, very much was. Still, all good things come to an end and the period of rejoicing over the 50-year-old Scot’s dismissal ended on Saturday when Giggs led United out at Old Trafford to rapturous applause. “The end of an error,” said the banner. The beginning of a new era.

However much Old Trafford enjoyed Giggs’ managerial bow it appears unlikely that the 40-year-old winger, who is still on the playing staff until June, will be offered the job permanently. At least not unless four positive results in the next two weeks increases the popular clamour for a decision in Giggs’ favour to fever pitch.

Instead, Dutch veteran Louis van Gaal is the bookmakers’ favourite to land the job, with informal talks having already taken place between the parties. Other potential appointees include Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancellotti, and Juventus’ Antonio Conte. There is little chance that Jose Mourinho, rejected by United’s board last spring, will head north this time around, while Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have seemingly ruled themselves out of contention.

Who do you want to be United's next manager?

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