Monday 18 December 2017

Moyes' polar opposite is in charge now

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

WHAT a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, the new Manchester United manager arrived for his first press conference at Old Trafford wearing the perplexed expression of a taxi driver who had been mistakenly invited on to a rolling news channel to give his opinion on the situation in Syria.

David Moyes, his brow creased, his eyes flicking nervously round the room, looked as if he thought he were about to be found out, as if he were the victim of some awful administrative mistake.

Louis van Gaal, by contrast, walked into one of the many hospitality lounges at United's Old Trafford looking as relaxed as if he owned the place. Never mind that he had returned from Brazil only three days ago, there was no visible hint of jet lag, no suggestion of exhaustion. His body language asked but one simple question of his audience: what took you so long?

"This," he said, as he sat down and surveyed a room full of cameras, "is like a holiday for me."


Van Gaal is not a man who does self-doubt. He had arrived in Manchester, he said, after having coached the number one club in Spain, the number one club in Germany and the number one club in the Netherlands.

"Now I am at the number one club in England," he said, as if his appointment were just a matter of time, the perfect fit.

At least, he qualified, he had arrived at the number one club in terms of commercial activity and in terms of worldwide success. After last season, he suggested, they could hardly maintain that seventh is the new first. There would be work required to re-establish the club in its true position. And he was the man to do just that.

"For me the challenge is always first not fourth," he said. There was none of the previous manager's "we'll do our best". No suggestion that he aspired to Manchester City. No hint that Liverpool will be the favourites in any future fixture. Just a direct aim for the top.


"When I worked in Spain, the Spanish league was, in my opinion, the best. When I worked in Germany, the German league was the best. Now I work in England, maybe the English league will be the best," was one of his observations. As was "tactically we are the best, we proved that in Brazil."

If not quite producing a line to match Jose Mourinho's "I am a special one", there can have been few managers who have been quite so self-promoting in their introductions as Van Gaal.

And although not particularly rude, he lived up to his reputation as a man with little time for his potential critics by being magisterially dismissive of some of the questions asked of him. When asked whether he had any predictions as to where United would finish in his first season, for instance, he was could barely conceal his contempt.

"Nobody predicted the Dutch team would come so far in Brazil," he said, his English more than capable of encompassing withering. "Nobody predicted Germany would beat Brazil 7-1, nobody predicted we would beat them 3-0 in their own home. Nobody knows so why do you ask?"

But even amid the disdain, there were hints as to his style of management. "Democratic" and "empathetic" he called it in contrast to one questioner's suggestion it was "autocratic". That was a media invention, he insisted. He was an open and understanding boss. Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville, too, would be invited to contribute, his would be a reign of all talents.

And yet he made it abundantly clear, when it came to tactics and team philosophy, where the decisions will ultimately be made. Asked if he would be buying any other players this summer, he said that he preferred to take a look at the current squad.

"I know the players, but I do not know how they play under me. I want to see how quick my players can pick up my philosophy, then I can answer if I will buy any more."

A man with a purpose, a man with a philosophy, a man exuding self-belief: things have changed around Old Trafford now that the new boss has arrived.

Nobody could accuse him of being the same as the old one.



Brash and confident Van Gaal will command respect at United

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