Scotland V England Saturday 24th February. 4:45PM. BBC One Scotland v England renew their rivalry…
It has been one of the biggest talking points of the summer and we are now just days away from Louis van Gaal’s first competitive game in charge of Premier League giants Manchester United.
After a dismal 2013/14 under a floundering David Moyes, it is Van Gaal who has been handed the monumental task of attempting to lead the Red Devils back to the summit of English and European football.
This is arguably the most difficult challenge of the 63-year-old’s managerial career. However, it is a test that the experienced and charismatic Dutchman is more than capable of passing. Here is five reasons why we think Van Gaal’s appointment will prove to be a huge hit at Old Trafford:
1) Replacing The Man Who Replaced The Man
In fairness to David Moyes, attempting to fill the shoes vacated by Sir Alex Ferguson was always going to be an impossible task. That doesn’t make excuses for the ex-Everton manager’s bumbling brief stint at Old Trafford but, strangely, you could argue that Van Gaal is taking on an easier challenge than his predecessor.
At a glance that appears a ludicrous statement as Van Gaal is inheriting a club that is at its lowest point in a quarter of a century. However, the only way is up for the Red Devils and even a return to the top four would be considered a relative success for the coming season; that is a feat which English football’s most successful club is more than capable of achieving.
Manchester United have now had a full year to adjust to life after Fergie and last season’s disappointment offer a rude awakening to some of the squad’s senior players. They must pull up their socks in 2014/15 and the early signs are positive.
From an external perspective it appears as though the entire team are buying into Van Gaal’s vision and that should stand them in good stead. It was patently obvious that Moyes never truly had the Old Trafford room and that is one key facet that the new boss already seems to have under control.
With the whole club pulling in the same direction, there is no reason they can’t strive for future success.
2) Relationship With RVP
Van Gaal’s working relationship with star striker Robin van Persie is no secret and that could be a key asset in his quest to guiding the Red Devils back to the summit of English football.
When Ferguson splashed out £30 million for the injury prone striker in the summer of 2012 many critics suggested that the move would backfire. However, RVP hit 26 goals in his maiden term at Old Trafford to finish as the Premier League’s top scorer and, more importantly, fire Manchester United to a record 20th league crown.
Unfortunately, failure to get the best out of the 31-year-old was just one in a long list of problems during Moyes’s ill-fated tenure at Old Trafford – it would be astonishing if Van Gaal can’t help his No.20 rediscover his mercurial best.
Van Persie enjoyed a decent World Cup under his new club manager, hitting four goals as the Netherlands finished third. Most memorably, the striker netted a phenomenal headed equaliser in the 5-1 demolition of Spain as Oranje exacted their revenge after losing in the final four years previously.
If RVP performs to his full potential in 2014/15, United will enjoy a much more productive campaign. Van Gaal is probably the best man for that mission.
3) Total Dutch Football
A number of sources, including assistant manager Ryan Giggs, have praised Van Gaal’s character by declaring that he will not be overwhelmed by the size of the challenge at hand.
Van Gaal has managed at the top for years and brings a wealth of experience to the role. He will not shy away from the press and already casts an authoritative figure capable of controlling the crop of stars at Old Trafford – something that Moyes arguably failed with.
However, it is the tactical know-how of the 63 year old that gives the Red Devils the greatest chance for success.
Van Gaal is a tactical genius and deserves a lot of credit for that. It is easy to forget that the season-ending injury to Kevin Strootman threatened to derail his World Cup preparations and his ability to adapt to the situation is a glowing reference to his fantastic managerial ability.
Having seen the Red Devils adopt the same 5-3-2 formation as the Netherlands, some cynics are suggesting that Van Gaal is a ‘one-trick pony’. That simply isn’t true. Throughout his career, the Dutchman has deployed a wide number of formations and strategies to get the best out of any given squad. While the systems may change, the philosophy remains constant and that ‘total football’ approach appears to be a perfect match for Manchester United.
Looking at the balance of the available resources, it is hard to argue with Van Gaal’s thinking. The Red Devils are blessed with attacking players, particularly No.10s, and the chosen formation should afford his key men the best environment to thrive. With Juan Mata operating in a central role behind a partnership of Van Persie and Wayne Rooney, it is hard to see them not surpassing last year’s tally of 64 goals.
However, the defensive options aren’t as strong and opting for three central defenders should compensate nicely.
Manchester United are traditionally a side who like to utilise the wings to optimum effect. On the face of it, the 5-3-2 would suggest that Van Gaal is rejecting that ideology. However, this system should allow for much more expansive wing-play than the Moyes regime ever did and we could see a return to the exciting style that we all came to love and expect of the Red Devils during the Ferguson era.
Crucially, though, it also allows them to dominate the middle with much greater authority. High-pressing and controlled attacking play served United well for the past two decades and those tactics will almost certainly be favoured by Van Gaal also. That should ensure a return to better times for the Old Trafford giants.
4) Faith In Youth
Ferguson’s fledglings famously proved Mark Lawrenson wrong back in 1992/93 and a strong youth set-up has been a key foundation throughout the club’s most successful period. Van Gaal will continue to show the faith in that tradition.
Throughout his managerial career the Dutchman has always given young talent a chance to shine and that was a prominent feature for the national side this summer. A mixture of youth and experience excelled in Brazil and a similar story could develop in Van Gaal’s maiden year at the Old Trafford helm.
With the likes of Adnan Januzaj, Phil Jones and David de Gea already playing key roles at United, van Gaal may be set to embed further new faces into the first team and future stars such as James Wilson.
Meanwhile, the new boss has already demonstrated his faith in young talent by splashing out £30 million for left-back Luke Shaw.
Make no mistake; it will be up to the experienced heads of Rooney, Mata, Michael Carrick and Van Persie to guide those youngsters. Nevertheless, you cannot overlook the importance of those young stars.
Van Gaal’s strength of character will ensure that these upcoming talents are given their chance and that could be the biggest factor in helping United back to the top.
5) The Return Of Darren Fletcher
Although the young talents will inevitably play a huge role for the Red Devils, the influence of experienced professionals cannot be overlooked as Van Gaal bids to blend a squad ready to fight for the title. The return of Darren Fletcher could be crucial.
The Scottish midfielder is a seasoned pro who has seen it all and he’ll be raring to go in 2014/15 after a frustrating couple of years due to health. With Carrick set to miss the opening weeks of the season, Fletcher’s authority could be key at the heart of Van Gaal’s midfield.
In addition to losing Ferguson, the Manchester giants have also seen the likes of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes all hang up their playing boots in recent times. Meanwhile, the summer departures of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra only further confirms the end of the club’s most decorated era.
Fletcher is one of the few familiar faces who can help smooth out the transition to the new generation and he is more than ready to accept that added responsibility.
For many a year, the cold-headed 30 year oldhas been an unsung hero amongst the superstar attractions at Old Trafford. He could emerge as one of Van Gaal’s most significant assets.