The Hard Work Starts Now (Again) For United

Following Alex Ferguson's successor was meant to be the best gig going, but David Moyes ruined all that. This will be a testing summer for Louis van Gaal and United...

Last Updated: 21/05/14 at 09:02 Post Comment

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This was the supposed to be the most desirable job in world football: The man who followed the man who followed Alex Ferguson. No-one wanted to be the one to step into the great manager's shoes, the ultimate footballing 'after the Lord Mayor's show', but following the successor was a different task entirely.

That was the plan, anyway. Waltz into Manchester United in the summer of 2016 to find a completed transition and a young hungry squad ready to win titles, Fergie and the Class of '92 a fond memory rather than ghostly apparition haunting Old Trafford. Instead, David Moyes' time at United was so disastrous and so short-lived that none of the necessary transition post-Ferguson had time to occur. Managing the club still seems to sit somewhere between thankless task and poisoned chalice.

It was never intended to be Louis van Gaal, either. "It was always a wish for me to work in the Premier League," was the Dutchman's claim in his first interview since being appointed, but there is little sense that he expected that chance to come on such an auspicious stage. The Dutchman was as long as 66/1 for the job when Ferguson stepped down last May, never seriously entertained as an option.

At 62 years of age this is obviously a short-term option, reflected in his contract being half the length of that offered to Moyes. After a year of stressing the importance of patience and stability, now is not the time for United statements containing long-term promises - Moyes' pay-off saw to that.

The extent of the hangover from the Moyes era is as yet undetermined, but given that club legend Ryan Giggs only managed to inspire a single victory before the underwhelming reality bit through limp home defeat to Sunderland epitomises the cloud of timidity and self-doubt hanging over United's squad. "You're not fit to wear the shirt," is the majority judgement on a number of the club's players, a label that looked increasingly accurate as the season stumbled on.

In fact, this has now become a harder task than that facing Moyes twelve months ago. The central defensive pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have departed (potentially followed by Patrice Evra), forcing the club into buying at least two defenders this summer. In midfield, the evident deadwood of Ashley Young, Nani and Antonio Valencia will probably all be moved on, again presenting the problem of expensive back-up players, whilst central midfield remains a worrying concern given the regression of Michael Carrick and the abject failure of Marouane Fellaini. And that's before the politics of the captaincy and striker food chain are considered.

It is clear that Van Gaal will be expected to overhaul his squad (including the replacement of the ageing departees), with reports of transfer budget ranging between £150m-£200m. Luke Shaw, Cesc Fabregas, Kevin Strootman and Mats Hummels are likely to be almost continuously linked with Old Trafford moves this summer.

However, even this is fraught with issues. United are evidently still a sizeable attraction for high-profile players, but the lack of Champions League football on offer will necessitate higher salary packages in order to ward off the temptation that Europe's premier club competition constitutes. The principles of supply and demand will do plenty to increase transfer fees as the window progresses.

In addition, the World Cup will impact on the time United have to push through significant deals. "You have to remember I only started on July 1, so in truth I have only been in the job three weeks at this present time," was David Moyes' reasoning for the club's recruitment struggles last summer, but Van Gaal will begin his task just a month before United's first league match of the season.

Van Gaal could have been forgiven, therefore, for remaining cautious. This is his first job in club management for three years and his first ever in England, and so watchful realism may have been the advisory stance to take; that is emphatically not his style. Speaking on Dutch television, the manager was typically bullish on his hopes for the club. Perhaps 'ballsy' would be a better description, given his record of testicular showmanship.

"Spain saw me succeed in my first year and in Germany as well. In England, it must also be possible," Van Gaal began. "The aim is to bring them back to the No1 position as soon as possible. I would be proud if it works right away. Together I'm sure we will make history."

One can understand Van Gaal's optimistic attitude. He is no shrinking violet - Iron Tulip is a far more appropriate botanical nickname - but evidently feels that he must add a layer of determination to the defeatism currently encircling United. Too often David Moyes was guilty of making statements that smacked of a man woefully out of his depth ("The blood drained from my face" being the first and perhaps finest example), and Van Gaal's aim is to insert an air of authority and respect. 'Be the opposite of Moyes' is a pretty logical mantra for any future United manager to adopt.

Whether such confidence is misplaced remains to be seen, but there should be no understatement of just how great a task Van Gaal faces. A squad needs rebuilding and the negative disposition of the club overturned. United cannot afford to hit the ground at anything other than running speed, but their new manager will have a matter of weeks to ignite meaningful change.

Unted have turned to Van Gaal through necessity rather than preference, his discipline and managerial autocracy the intended solution for the considerable deterioration of a football institution - this is their roll of the dice in hope of near-instant redemption.

Following the man who succeeded Sir Alex was meant to be the perfect job, but Louis Van Gaal has instead been handed the toughest of assignments. The Dutchman is an ambitious and brash character, but actions will speak louder than his often memorable words. There is an abundance of such action required.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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