If managing Manchester United was too big a job for David Moyes the concern with Louis van Gaal is whether ‘King Louis’ is too big for Manchester United. Not only does Van Gaal have ‘big club’ experience in abundance he has an ego to match.
Currently coaching the Dutch national team for the second time Van Gaal has a CV few can boast having won the Champions League and Uefa Cup with Ajax, and domestic titles with them, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AZ Alkmaar. He has coached nearly 800 matches with an impressive 61 per cent win ratio (better than Sir Alex Ferguson, but worse than Jose Mourinho).
Appointing the 62-year-old Dutchman is not, however, without risk, nor for the faint-hearted. Ed Woodward, United’s chief executive, and his Glazer family overlords would find that Van Gaal likes things done his way, and is very prepared to argue about it. Ex-Bayern president Uli Hoeness, since jailed for tax evasion, once said "He is a super, super coach. His only problem is he thinks he is above God." The media, too, would find that while Van Gaal can be charming he can also deliver Ferguson-style broadsides.
It is the players, however, who would experience Van Gaal on a daily basis, and that can be an interesting experience. Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said: "His management style reminds me of Felix Magath. It doesn't win you any friends."
The next Manchester United manager: Those linked with the Old Trafford hot seat
The next Manchester United manager: Those linked with the Old Trafford hot seat
1/10 Jurgen Klopp
Currently the manager of Borussia Dortmund, Klopp coached his team to the Champions League final in 2013. He also delivered back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2010/11 and 2011/12, despite Dortmund being in the financial shadow of Bayern Munich. All of that was achieved while playing a distinctive attractive style of football. After six years at the club, it could be time for the 46-year-old German to move on, however he has already said he is happy to stay.
2/10 Fabio Capello
The former England manager has coached the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus and Roma. He now resides over the Russian national team who topped their group in qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to ensure they are at the biggest tournament of them all for the first time since 2002.
3/10 Louis van Gaal
Dutchman Van Gaal will be leading his national side at this year's World Cup in Brazil. He has taken charge of both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the past and won the Champions League in 1995 with Ajax. In total, he has won over 60 per cent of his 780 games in management and he's made it very clear he covets a position in the Premier League. Heavily linked with Tottenham prior to David Moyes' sacking.
4/10 Sir Alex Ferguson
Considering he's at every game anyway, a switch from the stands back to the dug-out doesn't seem inconceivable for Sir Alex Ferguson. It'd certainly be a popular choice among fans having achieved so much success in his long time in charge. The winner of 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League titles, if there's anyone who can succeed Ferguson, it's Ferguson.
5/10 Frank De Boer
Although his managerial experience is relatively small in comparison to other potentials, he has already shown he can win domestically. Since taking over at Ajax in 2010, in his first job as manager, De Boer has won the Eredivisie in three consecutive attempts, with his team currently well clear at the top of the league this season. Has been regularly linked with the biggest vacancies in Europe.
6/10 Antonio Conte
Winner of the Serie A manager of the year in 2011-12 and 2012-13 after leading Juventus to the title in those seasons, as well as a Champions League winners medal to his name as a player, Conte has pedigree. Since taking charge in Turin three years ago, the Italian has returned Juventus to the dominant force in Italy, with the club destined to win their third title in a row this term. That kind of dominance is exactly what United crave.
7/10 Diego Simeone
Simeone has been enjoying much success since taking over at Atletico Madrid. His excellent win rate has seen the club win the Europa League and Super Cup, and against all odds challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona for La Liga title this season. He'd have to hope his history with David Beckham didn't count against him if Manchester United came calling.
8/10 Michael Laudrup
Despite a rather sudden and messy divorce from Swansea City earlier this year, Laudrup did show he was capable of managing at the highest level. He won the League Cup with the Welsh club, the first major trophy in the club's history, and he did it with a brand of football that won many plaudits. A legend as a player, the Dane has the gravitas for such a huge position as Manchester United manager.
9/10 Harry Redknapp
Currently manager of QPR, Redknapp has often been a fan favourite across English football, winning manager of the year in 2009/10 as well as the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008. At one stage he looked a certainty to be the next England manager, only to lose out to Roy Hodgson.
10/10 Ex-United players
If Manchester United were to choose from one of their own, they would have plenty of ex-players to pick from. Ryan Giggs is the most obvious choice after being installed on a temporary basis after Moyes' departure. Others in management who served as a player under Sir Alex Ferguson include Roy Keane, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, both Neville brothers and Steve Bruce. Mark Hughes played for United along with Gordon Strachan and Laurent Blanc. While none of them have particularly overachieved in any of their positions, a former player tends to be popular with fans, and can be rewarded with success.
He is certainly no respecter of reputations. Luca Toni, then a World Cup-winning striker with Bayern, recalled: "Van Gaal wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player from the team. It was all the same to him because, as he said, he had ‘the balls’. He demonstrated this literally by dropping his pants. I have never experienced anything like it, it was totally crazy."
Having been top scorer the previous season Toni quit Bayern in the winter break because, he said; "Van Gaal simply didn't want to work with me, he treats players like interchangeable objects." Lucio, the Brazilian defender, also left Bayern stating: "Van Gaal hurt me more than anyone else in football," he said. However, as Rummenigge said, Van Gaal was "what Bayern needed" at the time and he delivered only being denied a Bundeliga-German Cup-Champions League treble by Mourinho’s Internazionale.
There was an irony in that as the two are close friends, close enough for Van Gaal to fly to London in January for a Football Writers’ Association dinner at the Savoy in honour of Mourinho.
In a witty, self-depreciating speech Van Gaal said of Mourinho, "I am always ‘the arrogant Louis van Gaal’, but now I am humble because now he is better than me". Previously, however, Van Gaal has pointed out, "we are different in many ways. Mourinho teaches his team to win at all costs, while my objective is to win with style and attacking play, which is not so easy."
United, with their tradition of attacking football, will like that. It was Van Gaal who signed Arjen Robben for Bayern and paired him with Franck Ribery.
Robin van Persie would also welcome Van Gaal. The two have become so close since Van Gaal made Van Persie captain of the Oranje he has spent his recuperation from injury accompanying Van Gaal on scouting trips.
That tale does, however, highlight one of the problems in appointing Van Gaal. In seven weeks a World Cup starts in which the Dutch have a demanding qualifying group (Spain, Chile and Australia) which will probably pitch them into a second round meeting with Brazil if they do not top it. One of the problems with Moyes was that he did not start at United until 1 July, United may have to wait until mid-July for Van Gaal. Although he and Woodward can discuss targets, and communications technology now extends to FaceTime and video-conferencing, the vital work of re-building United’s squad would undoubtedly be hampered.
There are other caveats. Van Gaal came to fame nearly two decades ago with the brilliant young Champions League-winning Ajax team of Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars and Clarence Seedorf. Given the clubs he has subsequently managed it is surprising he has not won Europe’s premier competition again. He did reach the final with Bayern – but the club fired him the following season with the team trailing in the Bundesliga.
Then there is the memory of his failure to qualify for the World Cup with the Dutch in 2002. The crucial game was in Dublin. With the Irish down to ten men Jason McAteer stole a goal with 23 minutes left. Van Gaal, the great tactician, took off wingers Bolo Zenden and Overmars, brought on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Pierre van Hooijdonk to join Ruud van Nistelrooy and Kluivert, and watched his team pump high balls from deep at four centre-forwards. Richard Dunne headed them all away.
No one is perfect, it was a long time ago and Van Gaal may guide the Dutch to triumph this summer. But it is a reminder for Manchester United that even appointing such an illustrious figure as Van Gaal would come without guarantees.
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