19 May 2014

The ‘fiery one’ takes over at Manchester United

It’s been the worst-kept secret in football. Louis van Gaal’s appointment at Old Trafford comes as no surprise to anyone – but what will it mean for fans of the now second best club in Manchester?

The 62-year-old Dutchman is undoubtedly a big beast in the football jungle, writes Malcolm Boughen.

When Sir Alex Ferguson took over at Manchester United in 1986, he’d been a manager in Scotland for 12 years. He’d won the Scottish league and cup with Aberdeen – as well as the European Cup Winners’ Cup – but his reputation south of the border was not huge.

Van Gaal, however, has been in management for almost a quarter of a century. He’s won league titles with four clubs in three countries, as well as the Champions League, UEFA Cup and Intercontinental Cup.

When he took Ajax to that Champions League win in 1995, he was also named world manager of the year.

Currently in his second spell as manager of the Holland national team, he’s preparing for next month’s World Cup in Brazil, so is unlikely to take charge of United until they begin their pre-season tour of America in July.

But after that, the message could well be: “Hold on to your seats”. Whatever happens under Van Gaal’s tenure, it’s unlikely to be dull.


With a fiery temperament and an iron-clad confidence in his own abilities (which may sound familiar at Old Trafford), Louis van Gaal does not suffer fools gladly – or, if reports are to be believed – anyone who has an opinion different from his own.

He’s renowned at press conferences for his clashes with reporters who ask him “stupid” questions and players soon find that they have to do things his way – or prepare for a future elsewhere.

In an interview with Fifa.com in December, he was asked what it was that set him apart from other coaches.

“I think it’s my philosophy because it binds players with my training, and in my career, I have had a lot of players who are fascinated by that philosophy,” he replied.

“They find it nice to take part in it because it’s attacking, technical and tactical. They can show their qualities more than ever.”

He went on to explain how players had to fit into his 4-3-3 system and play as a team, quoting his time at Bayern Munich, when he told Bastian Schweinsteiger he had to switch from his wide left role into central midfield and converted youngster David Alaba from a midfielder to left back.

“If a young player can do it, then I select him,” he said. “If it’s an older player, it doesn’t bother me; it’s not the most important factor. Age is not important.”

Good news, then, for some of United’s young, emerging stars – and for Ryan Giggs, who takes over as Van Gaal’s assistant to help maintain continuity.

Van Persie captaincy

There was not such good news in that interview, though, for Wayne Rooney. The England striker was expected to take on the captaincy under David Moyes, but that role now looks more likely to go to Robin van Persie – a key player in the Dutch national team, who Van Gaal has picked out for praise in recent months.

“I choose the captain, not the players,” Van Gaal told Fifa.com. “I have to live with them and give them more responsibility. I have to admire him also because of his personality, his identity. My captains are very professional, but also very ambitious and honest.”

Van Gaal was first linked to the United job more than 12 years ago, when Sir Alex first suggested he was contemplating retirement. Of course that didn’t happen and the Scot went on to lead the Reds to six more Premier League titles and another Champions League before he finally stepped down.

When Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford his first job was to rescue them from a relegation struggle, but it took him until his seventh season before he led them to his first league title.

Van Gaal, who says he’s missed club management “every day” since he took over the national team two years ago, knows he will not be allowed such latitude.

At times a slow starter at new clubs – until players get used to his philosophy – and with that notoriously short fuse, it could be an interesting time at Old Trafford in the coming season.