Earlier this week the speculation surrounding the Manchester United job was finally put to bed as Louis Van Gaal was appointed manager after signing a three-year contract.
The news comes as no surprise and will please fans, players, the media and the man himself as no more interviews are required where the same question is asked: “When are you signing for United?”
The Dutchman finally occupies the United hot-seat, 12 years after he almost became manager of the Red Devils.
Back in 2002 Sir Alex Ferguson had announced his retirement and the then chief executive at United Peter Kenyon approached Van Gaal about taking over.
“It was said to me that Alex Ferguson was going to retire. The moment he’d go, I’d succeed him. But, in the end, Ferguson didn’t want to quit,” van Gaal said.
The rest, as they say, is history. United went on to become UEFA Champions League winners in 2007-2008 and win another 16 major trophies during Fergie’s extended reign. Van Gaal went on to become successful at some of Europe’s top clubs.
The 62-year old is his own man, and he makes decisions based on his own principles and beliefs. But he also makes them in his own time. That’s why it took weeks for the news to be officially announced as he didn’t want anything to get in the way of his World Cup preparations with Holland. United wanted it done at the beginning of last week but when Van Gaal wants something he generally gets his own way.
Van Gaal penciled in “May 19” as the day the news would be made official as this was a rest day for his national side; before they fly out to their Portuguese training camp ahead of the World Cup this summer.
The Dutchman was linked to the vacant managerial position at fellow Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur for months, even though it has only recently been made available. However as soon as the United job came up; the post at White Hart Lane soon became a distant second choice.
Will the former Ajax manager be a hit at Old Trafford? If you look at his credentials and achievements throughout his career then you can easily find the answer.
Van Gaal has won major trophies at every club he has managed. In a coaching career which has spanned 23 years and four clubs, he has won 19 major honours. The man knows what it takes to win things. After a disastrous year on the red side of Manchester the owners had no alternative but to appoint someone who could bring back the glory days. Despite only being appointed Holland national team boss in 2012, Van Gaal had recently admitted that he missed day-to-day club management and was eager to have one last crack at the top.
The 2013-2014 season will go down as United’s worst since the early 90s. David Moyes tenure was a short-lived one with the club finishing in 7th place in the Premier League table, thus missing out on UEFA Europa League qualification for next season, their worst finish since the league was formed in 1992. An FA Cup third-round defeat at home to Swansea City also put more pressure on the Scot and despite an impressive showing against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, despite the inevitable defeat, the hierarchy at United wielded the axe; just 12 months after appointing him.
It didn’t take long for them to seek out his replacement and after acquiring one of the most successful European coaches of all time a new dawn at Manchester United is underway.
In the early 1990s Van Gaal won three successive Dutch league titles with Ajax from 1994-1996 and also won the UEFA Cup (1991) and Champions League (1995). It went down as one of the greatest achievements ever in the history of the Dutch club and Van Gaal was immediately being sought by the top clubs around Europe, most notably Barcelona.
The late Sir Bobby Robson had recently won the Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup and European Cup Winners Cup in the 1996-1997 season and was asked to move upstairs by the Catalan club to make room for Van Gaal to take over as boss.
During his spell in charge Barcelona won two successive La Liga titles and the Copa del Rey trophy further enhancing his managerial status in the game.
It was at this point that his national team came calling in late 2000 however it wasn’t a successful tenure for Van Gaal, as Holland failed to reach the World Cup in 2002 – a disaster for the nation. A 2-2 draw with the Republic of Ireland and a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Portugal meant they failed to qualify for the first time since 1986.
After a disappointing return at Barcelona, where he was sacked with the club hovering just above the relegation zone, he had to wait until 2005 for his next managerial position at AZ Alkmaar.
Under Van Gaal, AZ finished second in the 2005-2006 Eredivisie season and then third the season after. In the 2006-2007 KNVB Cup they finished runners-up and also lost a Champions League qualification play-off to Ajax in 2007-2008.
However 2008-2009 saw AZ Alkmaar and Van Gaal win the league, despite losing their first two games of the season, and boasted the best defensive record in the division.
That summer he decided to move on and was appointed the new manager at German giants Bayern Munich. He acquired the services of Arjen Robben, the same player who Van Gaal had given his debut to for the Holland under20 side a few years earlier. After a slow start to his reign, which almost got him the sack, he turned around the clubs fortunes and they won the 2009-2010 Bundesliga title after beating Hertha Berlin 3-1 on the last day of the season; becoming the first Dutch coach to win the German title. They also went on to seal the domestic double beating Werder Bremen 4-0 in the DFB-Pokal Cup. A domestic treble eluded them however, with Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan prevailing 2-0 in the Champions League final.
The following season proved to be Van Gaal’s last as he was sacked in April 2011 after only guiding Bayern to 4th in the Bundesliga.
He had to wait over 15 months before his next managerial position, when after a disappointing Euro 2012 tournament, the Dutch FA came calling for the second time.
Van Gaal has led Holland to the World Cup with little fuss, winning nine of ten qualification games, and overseeing a change in direction which has seen youngsters Daley Blind, Jasper Cillessen, Memphis Depay, Daryl Janmaat and Stefan de Vrij amongst others given a chance.
One of Van Gaal’s strengths in his managerial style is his ability and faith in giving youth a chance to prosper. Whilst at Ajax in the early 90s he oversaw the growth and development of players such as Dennis Bergkamp, Edgar Davids, Frank and Ronald De Boer, Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf and Edwin Van der Sar.
Indeed the side that started and won the 1995 Champions League title would include every player mentioned above with the exception of Bergkamp. The way the side would pass the ball around and dictate play was a joy to watch even then and the respect they showed for Van Gaal not only set them up for later life, but also enhanced Van Gaal’s managerial qualities.
All these players would go on to have glittering careers for club and country and it proved that Van Gaal had what it took to make youth systems at football clubs work. But how does he do it?
According to his biographer Maarten Meijer, Van Gaal treats the players like school kids due to his dictatorship style: “Van Gaal critics are perturbed by what they consider the coach’s schoolmasterly style and tone. In their view he is still the high school teacher: ever the smart-aleck, autocratic, comfortably convinced of the superiority of his own opinions, and no one should dare to criticise master Van Gaal’s methodology.”
This treatment of his players has yielded results at every club he has been at, not just Ajax. Indeed whilst at Bayern Munich he brought Daniel Alaba and Thomas Muller into the first team and they are now first-team regulars for the Germans. He also moved Bastian Schweinsteiger into a defensive midfield position, where he is now regarded as one of the best in the world.
Earlier this week former Manchester United great David Beckham welcomed the appointment of Van Gaal and stated his emphasis on youth can only be good for the club: “He has got a history of working with young players, bringing players through academy systems at places like Ajax. That can only be great for Manchester United.”
He added: “As a Manchester United fan and for Manchester United as a club, to have someone like this with his pedigree … he has worked with some of the biggest and best players in the world.”
Even after experiencing difficult spells at Barcelona, and with his national team, Meijer states that Van Gaal hasn’t changed his managerial style, ever since he stepped into the world of football management back in 1991: “Van Gaal has had his share of international coaching experience, but wherever he worked he has unyieldingly stuck to his guns. Being a true Dutchman, he has no difficulty ignoring advice, no matter how well-intended some of it may be, and has persistently followed his own way, because he is convinced his own way is best.”
Van Gaal’s tactical nous makes him one of the best coaches to have ever graced the game. His successes with Ajax and Bayern Munich epitomised the beliefs that he bestows in youth development, however at all four of his previous club sides he has portrayed football the way it should be played. Fast, frenetic and exciting.
During qualifying for this summer’s World Cup only Germany scored more goals than that of Holland’s 34.
Raymond Verheijen has worked with the new United manager before and says that United fans will be treated to attacking football that became synonymous under Sir Alex Ferguson: “He is the perfect coach of the ‘Dutch School’ which is similar to attacking football,” he recently told BBC World Service. “The fans can be assured that it will be a very attacking playing style. He’s an extremely good team builder, a good technical teacher. If a club wants to start from scratch and build a new team then he’s the perfect candidate.”
One of the first changes the United players will notice when they report for pre-season duty is the emphasis on constantly changing positions on the football field.
Van Gaal grew up in Amsterdam and watched training sessions at his local club who were managed at the time by Rinus Michels. He learned that training with the ball is a vital part of a footballer’s development, and even though fitness and gym work is also important, the best way to play an attacking game is to use numerous footballs at the same time, moving the players around the pitch, interchanging and moving into different positions. This confuses the opponent and keeps them second guessing.
Van Gaal’s research on the opponent and the way he explains things has gained him plaudits throughout his career.
Former players, who he has tutored, have spoken of their pride of working under such a character; and said that his attention to detail, and pre-match preparations’, have helped them to become much better players.
On the day Van Gaal was confirmed as United boss, it was also confirmed that club legend Ryan Giggs would be taking up an assistant manager role under the new manager. This is typical of Van Gaal. His desire and belief in giving young up and coming coaches a chance to prove themselves is testament to his character.
And if there are any reservations about the decision then the successes of former assistants Jose Mourinho and Josep Guardiola is sure to put that to bed.
With a football feast lined-up over the summer, and Van Gaal’s attention firmly on World Cup success with Holland, United will have to wait before their new manager officially takes charge.
Before then transfer activity is expected to be very high at Old Trafford with the Dutchman having drawn up a list of potential new recruits he wants for next season.
Southampton’s left-back Luke Shaw is expected to be the first through the door with a £27m fee being discussed and midfielders Toni Kroos and Kevin Strootman could soon follow.
However another characteristic that typifies the man Van Gaal is, is shown in his recent comments when asked about player transfers: “United have to negotiate. I never interfere with transfers, that I do not do. I say what players I want and which players can go home”.
Van Gaal is a man that always strives for the very best and expects his players to perform to the highest standards, otherwise they will be made surplus to requirements. He has already outlined his wishes for next season: “I want to win the Premier League. Not just with the current players or arrivals but youth too”.
It certainly is an exciting time at Old Trafford. With a manager like Louis Van Gaal at the helm United fans can be sure on one thing: United won’t experience a season like the last. In 2014-2015 they will be back to their very best; even if he has to upset some people along the way.