Five Things We're Learning About Van Gaal

For Manchester United fans, the World Cup offers a window into the tactics and techniques of Louis van Gaal. He's no respecter of traditions or reputations...

Last Updated: 19/06/14 at 15:48 Post Comment

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1. Combines Tactical Flexibility With Decisive Actions:
In the space of two games, Van Gaal has disposed of the sacred Dutch tradition of 4-3-3 in favour of a 5-3-2, before returning to a back four at half-time against Australia.

Even his predecessor David Moyes paid tribute to Van Gaal's tactical masterclass against Spain in their opening game. According to Moyes, the Dutchman "planned it perfectly" as Netherlands lined up with three central defenders and conservative wing-backs, shielded by Jonathan De Guzman and Nigel De Jong. Much has been written about how effective the tactics were, but the fact he erred from the Dutch doctrine of 4-3-3 tells you just as much about Van Gaal.

The 4-3-3 formation is not just the preferred system in Holland, it is the only system. That Van Gaal binned it and, as a consequence, earned one of their most famous victories, has conflicted some in Holland.

But it was back for the second half against Australia, who pushed midfield runners up alongside Tim Cahill to occupy the three-man defence. Van Gaal made the formation switch at half-time - at the same time as changing his players' mind-set, according to the coach - and Netherlands dominated from there.

At Old Trafford, playing with wingers is one of the things that constitutes the 'United Way', but Van Gaal will not be swayed into conforming to such traditions if they do not match his plan for any given opponent.

Unlike many 'wait-and-see' managers, Van Gaal is not prepared to hang around if he identifies an area of weakness. He admitted that he would have altered his game plan at half-time against Spain too, had Robin van Persie not scored a brilliant equaliser just before the break. He is very much more Mourinho than Moyes in this respect, though he will rightly claim that Mourinho is of the Van Gaal mould, rather than the opposite way round.

During matches, Van Gaal is not a touchline prowler; prior to the Australia clash, he described himself as a "sitting-down coach, not a standing-up coach". Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United made it a club-wide policy to keep contributions from the sideline to a minimum and Van Gaal shares that philosophy. When he moves, whether it be to change a tactic or a player, he acts decisively.


2. Creative With Individuals
Not only is Van Gaal willing to tinker with formations, he is happy to experiment with individual players and their role within the team.

Much has previously been made of his influence over Bastian Schweinsteiger and David Alaba and their positional changes under Van Gaal, but the coach continues to use players where he believes their profile best fits.

Daley Blind has carved out a reputation as a holding midfielder at Ajax, but Van Gaal prefers him on the left. Could he persuade Wayne Rooney to follow suit?

The England striker looked out of sorts against Italy in a wide role but, given Van Gaal's relationship with Robin van Persie, Rooney could have his nose put out of joint if he insists on playing in his favoured role down the middle. Unlike United's 4-2-3-1 system of recent years, Van Gaal's usual 4-3-3 requires only one central attacker. The new manager may have to rely on his powers of persuasion, just as he did at Bayern, to get the best out Rooney alongside Van Persie.


3. Willing To Give Youth A Chance
Patrick Kluivert, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Victor Valdes, Thomas Muller and Holger Badstuber are just some of the players who were given their break by Van Gaal. The coach has never been dazzled by big names, and he has a proven track record of promoting and trusting youth - a philosophy which makes him the ideal man for United.

This has also been evident at the World Cup. Alongside the experienced Ron Vlaar, Van Gaal has trusted two 22-year-olds: Feyenoord duo Stefan De Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi. Further evidence came at half-time against Australia when he ignored the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Klass-Jan Huntelaar and opted for 20-year-old Memphis Depay, who repaid Van Gaal's faith by drilling in the winning goal. The average age of the XI that destroyed holders Spain was just 23.7 years, which is even more impressive when you consider that the attacking trio of Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder have all turned 30.

The United production line had dried up until last season, when Moyes gave Adnan Januzaj his chance, before Ryan Giggs made a statement by using his final home game to give James Wilson and Tom Lawrence their debuts. It is thought Giggs will be an important link between Van Gaal and the youth set-up.


4. Makes A Great Friend And A Dangerous Foe
The picture painted of Van Gaal is often that of an autocrat who rules by fear. There are numerous players who hated playing for Van Gaal, but there are many more who would run through a wall for the coach. Put simply: tow the line with Van Gaal, buy into his methods and he will be a friend for life. Challenge him and you're gone.

Van Persie is the epitome of that. Under Moyes, the striker was marginalised as the manager sought to placate Rooney, with the Dutchman absent for long spells. With Van Gaal, the mutual respect between the two borders on a bromance. "Very special" is how Van Persie describes his relationship with the incoming manager, with the pair's high-five last week providing one of the most iconic images of the tournament so far.

Contrary to his image as a dictator, Van Gaal understands the need to treat players as humans rather than commodities. "I'm bothered about whether the players like me," he said. "It's very important. I am a coach who wants a good relationship with my players. And I do everything to reach that level but sometimes it is not reachable as the players are not open-minded and don't adapt to the norms that I put in the team."

He allowed the Dutch players to see their families on the day of the victory over Spain to help them relax and momentarily take their minds away from the task at hand - it seemed to do the trick. One of his first tasks at Old Trafford will be to conduct one-on-one interviews with each player to find out everything about them. Players used to looking up to Sir Alex Ferguson as a father figure will likely respond to this openness and honesty rather than Moyes' reserved approach and reported fear of confrontation.


5. Journalists And Reporters Beware
There has been little sign of Van Gaal's disdain for journalists softening while he has been in Brazil. The Dutchman is known for being abrupt and direct to the point of rudeness when the questions or those posing them challenge his approach. Even after two victories and a place in the last 16, Van Gaal was in no mood to indulge journalists on Wednesday.

"That is your conclusion. Apparently you know more than I do," was Van Gaal's answer to a quite reasonable question about whether 4-3-3 would result in his players being less careless with the ball.

Van Gaal's unrepentant self-belief and bullish nature makes him a fascinating interviewee. After a year of listening to little but 'hope' and 'try' from Moyes, Van Gaal's straightforward and brutal honesty will come as blessed relief to United fans, who will not be bothered about the odd press hack having their feelings hurt.

By Ian Watson - follow him on Twitter.

There are only three players in Man Utd's entire squad who don't need to be replaced. Rooney, RVP and De Gea. The rest of them need to to be replaced and then backup's acquired. It's going to take a LOT of money and a good few seasons to get back up to the Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG level. For what its worth, I think Van Gaal to exactly the right man for the job, so they are on the right tracks. By the way, I am not trolling here, I am being honest. Expect a long hard slog back to the top.
- jimbobbarker

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