Welcome Louis: What to expect from Van Gaal’s United.
After the dismal failure of the cut-price continuity candidate, change is in the air. Expectations are sky high as we welcome the man tasked with being the catalyst for a revolution. The accepted view amongst the fanbase is that last year was an anomaly and we will now swiftly be returned to our rightful place at the top of the game. Such an outcome is certainly not impossible, but I believe it would be wrong to judge the approaching season purely in terms of trophies. The job facing Louis van Gaal is to lay the foundations for a new Manchester United. This revolution very much will be televised but the key changes will occur behind the scenes.
So what am I hoping to see from the new boss?
One of the low points of last season was the steady trickle of petty dissent expressed by the players through all manner of methods. A clear strength of the over-achieving Netherlands World Cup squad was the unity in the squad and deference to the manager. The biggest force in that dressing room must be the man who picks the team and it is crucial that the ‘special treatment’ doled out to certain members of the squad by Moyes is not repeated. A key relationship will undoubtedly be Robin van Persie; it would be self-defeating for van Gaal not to see his kinship with his fellow man of Orange as an asset yet there exists potential for such a bond to sow seeds of jealousy in others. Judging the mentality of the individuals he inherits is as important as assessing their talent; I expect to see at least one high profile departure to assert the authority of the new man. van Gaal has experienced the highs and lows of managing at the biggest clubs with the highest expectations. He is, and must remain, the single most important member of staff at the football club on and off the field. The last man in charge was in awe of the superstars he was meant to lead, the new man must instil awe and desire in those same players to embrace and obey his methods.
A new era requires a new start for all involved. Playing staff must go into the new season on an equal footing; no players in a squad that performed so far beneath expectations are entitled to feel irreplaceable. The appointment of Giggs was a shrewd move; the continued involvement of our most decorated player keeps the fans onside but more importantly he can advise on the current playing squad. Giggs has shared a dressing room with these men as a teammate and gained an insight into their personal strengths and weaknesses that any manager would love to have. However it is just as important that the new manager relies upon his own judgment. van Gaal regularly talks about a collective approach to success; it just might be that a player derided last season will be transformed into a key man. Ideally we will see promotion from within – continuing the proud tradition of producing our own. A pattern throughout van Gaal’s career has been promoting youth when he felt them capable of performing a role in the team rather than a senior alternative. Several disenfranchised and/or under-performing players have been marked by the media as bound for an exit but would this not be hasty? Take Chris Smalling for example; his star has undoubtedly dimmed after an inconsistent season played largely at full back. Speculation has surrounded the possibility of Smalling moving on but I dearly hope he is given the opportunity to show that he can improve and reach the standards required of the new boss. Talk of being ‘on trial’ during a short money spinning tour of the US is ludicrous. I haven’t followed the career of Bruno Martins Indi or Ron Vlaar closely but until this summer they were never considered potential United players. In terms of talent Smalling could prove to be superior to both players who so impressed against the very best in Brazil. The time to judge is after working on a daily basis with the new coaching team for at least six months. For some, decisions may already have been made; financial considerations mean players with expiring contracts might not be afforded sufficient time to impress. For the majority however I hope to see them stay and be given an opportunity to embrace the new era. Who knows, maybe even Frenchy’s beloved rotund Brazilian will enjoy a renaissance?
Much is made of the ‘United way’ – a commitment to attack which originates from Busby’s demand to entertain the hard-working people of Manchester. The ‘United way’ has been lacking for many years – in the later Ferguson years and under Moyes the emphasis was on individuals to produce moments of magic against a backdrop of limited but hardworking midfielders and (under Fergie at least) solid defence. Total football will not be coming to Manchester – van Gaal cares too much about winning for that – but I am at least hoping to see a collective style to our team that has been demonstrably absent. The debate around the likely approach of the new man in charge continues to rage. Initial predictions of a possession focused 4-3-3 have been thrown into doubt by a summer of success featuring counter attack, three centrebacks and two forwards. The only thing we can be certain of is a break from the 4-4-2 model employed and interpretted with varying success by our last two managers. For me, the importance of formations are exagerrated, the key is the approach. I am hoping to see an assertive, positive approach with an emphasis on fluid, attacking football. Last season we witnessed an unhappy marriage of a conservative, rigid, reactive manager and creative, technically gifted players used to Meulensteen’s diet of Coerver coaching. The club’s pursuit of midfield and defensive reinforcements echoes my belief that the current squad’s strength is in attack. A shrewd coach will harness a team’s strength and address their weaknesses. In United’s case, that means a system and approach that maximises the opportunities for the creative players to shine.
I’m not expecting all of this to happen overnight and finishing in a Champions League berth would constitute a success. Infusing new ideas and finding the right blend will take time. Fans are understandably excited and expectations are exagerrated but we can have faith that this time we have the right man for the job. The future’s bright, the future’s oranje.