He has arrived.
After guiding the Netherlands to a thoroughly respectable third place at this year’s World Cup, Louis van Gaal began his Manchester United tenure on Wednesday. Clearly the Dutchman doesn’t believe in holidays.
After the disastrous Moyes era, van Gaal is the man that United have chosen to restore them to the upper echelons of European football, and it’s fair to say that United fans are pretty confident about the Dutchman’s ability to do just that.
To be blunt, the Moyes regime was characterised by cowardice and the manager’s inability to inspire his squad to something great. The Scot’s lack of confidence in all of his dealings with the media – from his first press conference to his final moments in charge – is thought to have had massive knock-on effects in terms of the confidence of his players and their ability to perform on the pitch.
It seems unlikely that they will suffer this same issue under van Gaal.
The Dutchman’s first press conference as Manchester United manager was every inch the performance of a confident man, every inch the performance of a man who believes deeply in his own ability and his philosophy.
The whole conference was absolutely enthralling, and seemed to tell us a lot about how van Gaal is planning to operate at Old Trafford. Here are five things we’ve gleaned from van Gaal’s first interaction with the press:
1) He is willing to give existing players a chance
There has been all sorts of talk about van Gaal coming in and buying a whole team of new players, and whilst he may still invest heavily this summer, the United boss made it very clear that it was his intention to give the players currently at the club a chance. He suggested that his first three or four weeks in charge will be used to gauge the players, their performance in training and their suitability to his philosophy before he decides what reinforcements (if any) are to be brought in.
United squad players will breathe a sigh of relief at this news. The list of players who underperformed under Moyes is very lengthy indeed, and many of them are likely to have been fearful that they would be regarded as inadequate when van Gaal arrived. The Dutchman’s commitment to be patient and assess over the next few weeks is likely to have bought him some popularity in the United dressing room – after all, any new boss is unlikely to be massively popular if he strides in and bemoans the need for wholesale changes.
2) He does not suffer fools gladly
When asked by a Daily Mirror reporter whether van Gaal felt that United fans could be optimistic that their side would challenge for the title this season, the Dutchman responded, “That is always the question and that is what I have explained already”. This seems to be a key theme of the van Gaal mantra. He is not a man to mince words, and he is not the sort of man that journalists can wheedle more information out of. This is likely to bode well for any transfer negotiations this summer.
When we compare van Gaal’s tight-lipped approach to Moyes’ embarrassing pursuit of Cesc Fabregas last summer, we see a marked contrast. Moyes and Ed Woodward were embarrassing in their public nature of their pursuits; all too ready to talk to the press about the players they were after. Van Gaal seems unlikely to ever give the media what they want unless it suits him, and in this regard he is much more similar to Sir Alex Ferguson than David Moyes ever was.
3) He has a ‘philosophy’
Much of the criticism that Moyes endured last season was borne out of his side’s dire style of play. On one notable occasion, United fired 82 crosses into the Fulham box and failed to convert any of them into goals – and yet there was no deviation. If this was Moyes’ philosophy, it was not effective.
In reality, this was not Moyes’ philosophy, but rather an illustration of the fact that the Scot did not have a philosophy. He simply was not able to enforce a blueprint of how to play the game upon the players he was entrusted with. Van Gaal is likely to be very different. He believes in his ‘way’ of playing football, and nothing and no one will compel him to deviate from it. The good news for United fans is that on the basis of the Netherlands’ style during the World Cup, it’s likely to be a hell of a lot more attractive than United under Moyes.
4) He’s bullish
Whilst talking about his new role at Manchester United, van Gaal name-checked some of his other roles including Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax. He described United as the biggest club in England and those three clubs as the biggest clubs in their respective countries. No big deal right? Well, no. However, the Dutchman then went on to state that he believed the English, Spanish, German and Dutch leagues to be the four strongest leagues in the world. Following this statement he immediately picked up on a journalist who was laughing, presumably at the thought of the Dutch league being described as one of the four best leagues in the world. To van Gaal this was not amusing, and he made this eminently clear in the press conference.
The fierce glare that he fixed the journalist with was reminiscent of Fergie in his pomp, and indicated quite clearly that this is not a man to be crossed. Once again, this appears to be a direct contrast to Moyes. Whilst Moyes struggled with player power and media attention, it very much seems like van Gaal will take all of that in his stride.
5) He means business
When asked if he had fancied a holiday, the Dutchman simply replied, ”when there is a challenge like this, I never let it go”. Whilst Moyes seemed to be clinging onto his United job for dear life, it seems that van Gaal really does mean to pull up a few trees. I can hardly wait for the season to begin.
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