Van Gaal Would Promise A Fascinating Ride

Should Louis van Gaal take over at Old Trafford, there seems little guarantee that he would be successful. One thing is sure, it would be an interesting and enjoyable ride...

Last Updated: 24/04/14 at 08:59 Post Comment

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"Louis van Gaal has nothing left to learn" - Louis van Gaal, 2001

"You wonder whether he has one or two screws loose" - Johann Cruyff, 2009

Even before David Moyes proved himself to be utterly incompetent in the role of Manchester United manager, his appointment drew fascination from newly-intrigued supporters of other clubs. Familiarity breeds not only contempt but also disinterest, and with a new man at the helm of the champions, it always promised to be interesting. For long periods under Alex Ferguson, United had become ruthlessly efficient. The 145 league games at Old Trafford prior to April last year brought just nine defeats - it's been eight in 20 since.

As Moyes frequently lurched between disappointment and disarray, it became no less entertaining a spectacle. Every home match became must-see for the vaguely impartial (note my deliberate refusal to use the word 'neutral', for no such concept exists in football), every televised match instantly offering the potential for car-crash viewing. That time has now, sadly for many outside of Old Trafford, come to an end.

However, those worried that United may once again slip into the tedium of consistency should not be too alarmed. Despite being priced at just 5/2 for the title last August with Moyes in charge, United are now as long as 8/1 to win the Premier League next season - it appears that the Moyes Effect is a lasting affliction.

Any concern that life at United was about to take a turn for the monotonous would be eradicated should current favourite Louis van Gaal be tasked with hauling the club back into the Champions League. A coach self-described as "confident, arrogant, dominant, honest, hard-working and innovative" upon being appointed at Bayern Munich, the Premier League could be about to welcome an ego that would make Jose Mourinho seem like the Humble One. With Van Gaal, things are never dull.

There is the story told by Luca Toni of his time at Bayern Munich, for example. "The coach wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player, it was all the same to him because, as he said, he had the balls," said Toni. "He demonstrated this literally (by dropping his trousers). I have never experienced anything like it, it was totally crazy. Luckily I didn't see a lot, because I wasn't in the front row." And you thought Tim Sherwood was rather unhinged.

Then there's the one regarding Gerard Pique, introduced to Van Gaal aged 14 by his grandfather, a director of Barcelona at the time. With Pique telling his new acquaintance that he wanted to be a defender for the club in the future, Van Gaal pushed Pique to the floor, leaning over him and telling him "You're too weak to be a Barcelona defender."

Finally, there are the concerns over the stability of his mental state, with the manager's confession that "I cry almost every day. There's always something that touches me." As Dutch writer Hugo Borst, author of the book 'O, Louis', describes, Van Gaal is constantly fluttering between the border of genius and madness. It's a thin line indeed.

There is more than a whiff of the Brian Clough about Van Gaal's methods of man management, and an anecdote of Frank De Boer hammers home the comparison. One of Clough's famous quotations ("We talk about it for twenty minutes and then we decide I was right") is mirrored by De Boer's description of his then Ajax manager's attitude: "He is open to other ideas, but they must understand that he will not budge on his."

One of the most worrying aspects of Moyes' management at United was his inability to maintain positive relationships with key players and, whilst Van Gaal's contact with Robin van Persie at international level will be beneficial to the striker's morale, it is an area in which the potential new manager has suffered markedly in the past.

During his last spell in club management at Bayern Munich, Lucio claimed that Van Gaal "disrespected" him, whilst Mark van Bommel left the club after a single season. Franck Ribery admitted that "I haven't had fun on the pitch once under Van Gaal" and Zlatan Ibrahimovic labelled him a "dictator", with Giovanni still managing to go one step further: "Van Gaal is Hitler to the Brazilian players, he's arrogant, proud and has a problem. He has no idea of football. His type is sick, he's crazy."

If Danny Welbeck got uppity with playing on the left wing occasionally, he may be about to get a rather rude awakening, whilst even imagining Van Gaal's reaction to Paul Stretford and Wayne Rooney trying to dictate Rooney's preferred position makes me tingle with excitement.

Given the lack of fight displayed by United's players at times this season, one may consider that the proverbial 'rocket up the arse' treatment has never been more required. The return of the hairdryer to the Old Trafford home dressing room would be welcomed by many of those forced to watch the dross served up on multiple occasions this season. Karl-Heinz Rumenigge claims that Van Gaal's style "doesn't win him any friends", but is there any real reason why it should?

Whilst arrogance and rudeness would characteristically be treated negatively, Van Gaal crucially has the record to back-up such brashness. His spell at Bayern is a definite stain on the CV (he left the club after finishing third in 2010/11), but his roll of honour reads a great deal more impressively than most: seven league titles, seven domestic cups, one UEFA Cup, two UEFA Super Cups and the Champions League. A 62% win record throughout his 23 years as a manager across three countries hints at his adaptability, too.

Whilst Moyes struggled to gain the respect of his squad, Van Gaal would make this his ultimate pre-season priority, demanding that his players buy into his mentality or be left in the shadows. However, unlike Moyes, Van Gaal has evidence that his methods can end in notable success, whilst also having greater capability in attracting the high-profile signings that United failed to land with Moyes at the helm. Toni Kroos thanks the Dutchman for giving him his break at Bayern, for example.

Van Gaal would also urge United to play with the verve and flair so evidently lacking during almost every minute of the Moyes era. The "football utopia" of his Ajax days (a term attributed to then Real Madrid coach Jorge Valdano) may be now almost two decades in the past, but Van Gaal maintains a preference for attacking play. "My philosophy is to attack, always attack. To win by attacking your opponent on the pitch. I believe you should always entertain the public." Magnanimous as ever.

The Dutchman's tactical preference is to operate with a fluid 4-3-3 system that involves continuously passing the ball to both tire the opposition and work an opportunity, an approach summed up by one of his (numerous) famous quotes. "Running is for animals. You need a brain and a ball for football."

Van Gaal wishes his teams to play out from the back, looking to exploit space, and every United player would know their role and their expectation. After the uncertainty and haphazard reactivity of Moyes, this is the proactivity of Van Gaal. It all sounds bloody exciting.

There is also an interesting comparison to be drawn between Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, the coach many Manchester United supporters feel should have been offered the chance to take Fergie's sizeable mantle. When the Dutchman replaced Bobby Robson as manager at Barcelona, Mourinho stayed on as coach.

Speaking before the Champions league final between the two managers in 2010, Van Gaal described their first meeting. "Jose is a man I met under Bobby Robson at Barcelona. Mourinho thought he'd been promised the youth academy and even that he might be the next manager. He was so angry and shouted so much about not being consulted that I was impressed. That day he was a special one and because of that I hired him."

"I learned that day he was special. He told me who he was and we worked together for three years. We have been observing each other ever since and been sending text messages. Little did I know he would be such a great coach."

Mourinho has since described how, whilst Robson taught him the psychology and man management side of football, it was Van Gaal that taught him the tactical coaching elements, although the Dutchman remains typically confident of his own ability in comparison. When asked if Mourinho was the best coach of his generation, Van Gaal replied: "He's 10 years younger than me. So in his generation, you are right."

Whoever United's hierarchy choose to appoint next, the unimaginable slump suffered under David Moyes means that next season promises to be as fascinating as this at Old Trafford. Opting for Van Gaal would be no guarantee of success as the club attempt to plot their route back up the table, but it would certainly make for a damn enjoyable journey. Arrogant, blunt and gloriously prickly, this would be a box office addition to the Premier League.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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