herald

Monday 23 October 2017

John Giles: Straight talking Louis is a tonic

Van Gaal coping well with life at Old Trafford

Louis van Gaal
Louis van Gaal

LOUIS van Gaal is growing on me. For years, I've only really seen him from afar and I found his manner and personality off-putting but my opinion is changing as this season unfolds.

Nobody could argue with his record but the image he projected was a bit too arrogant, a bit too smug for my liking.

But as the weeks go by, I find myself beginning to admire his forthright approach and on Sunday, he will preside over his first Manchester derby and finds himself pitted against another man who has been attracting some negative publicity for his demeanour.

I heard Graham Taylor on Newstalk radio last weekend speaking about Manuel Pellegrini. He suggested that from what he had seen of the man after Manchester City's Champions League draw in Moscow, he wasn't doing enough to inspire his players.

I don't really understand how Taylor can reach that conclusion based on a few games and a television interview. This is the manager of the Premier League champions. Manchester City won the title. Did Pellegrini do enough to inspire them to do that?

Of course he did. I don't dispute that Manchester City have looked lethargic at times this season but I suspect there are reasons for that which have nothing to do with Pellegrini.

Most of his squad were preoccupied with the World Cup and in many cases, into the knock-out stages of that competition. The players barely had a break before they were back in the thick of it.

I'm never one to offer tiredness as an excuse for professional footballers but a body can only take so much, no matter how well conditioned and monitored players are these days. In this case, I do believe that this is an issue for Pellegrini and a big one.

Perhaps tiredness is the wrong word here. I'm sure all of the Manchester City players would tick the boxes if you set some fitness tests for them. It's more a case of freshness or the lack of it.

We saw a really good example of how important this can be with Liverpool last season. They had one competition to focus on after Christmas and Brendan Rodgers was able to keep all his key payers fit. It counted for a lot in the title chase and when they blew it at the end, it had nothing to do with tiredness.

I don't doubt for a second that Pellgrini has a job on his hands to overcome this problem but I can't see how anyone could reach the conclusion that his personality is somehow impacting on the way the team is playing.

Was his personality different last season? No it wasn't. There are many reasons why a successful team loses form but whether Pellegrini looks animated or not during an interview immediately after a difficult game is not one of them.

My gradual warming towards Van Gaal certainly has nothing to do with the way his team plays.

He has a successful track record which speaks for itself and there is a good chance he will get it right at Old Trafford. I simply wasn't aware of how he goes about his business on a daily basis and the glimpse we've had since he arrived at Old Trafford has been both revealing and interesting.

The reputation he has for arrogance has been generated mostly in the media. Players seem to like him and not many have publicly criticised him. Some, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, have complained about excessive discipline but I wouldn't pay too much heed to that. You can't argue with the man's record.

I like the way he answers questions and I like the way he deals with the media. I'm perhaps a bit biased there. I wasn't great with journalists when I was a manager. I know now that it was a mistake.

Disdain

What I see in Van Gaal is a willingness to answer good questions honestly and a complete disdain for some of the awful stuff you sometimes hear at press conferences.

I see a manager doing his job well. He engages but he doesn't give much away and that's the right mix.

But how he deals with the intrusion of the media into his life has no impact whatsoever on what he does on the training ground and Pellegrini is the same.

This is a nicely poised fixture for the neutral. I expect Pellegrini will have no problem with freshness or complacency for a Manchester derby and in that is an explanation of sorts for their sluggish start.

Successful players get used to the adrenaline rush of big games and big occasions and even if they are flogged and in need of a break, it is always easier to get to the right pitch when Manchester United are on the menu.

For that reason, I'm tipping Manchester City to win. I think that Pellegrini still has a squad which can win the title and I would be very surprised indeed if they don't push Chelsea right to the wire.

For Van Gaal, defeat in his first Manchester derby would be a blow but he will cope.

He will be given time, more money to spend and I for one, wouldn't bet against him over the long term.

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