Louis van Gaal unveiled at Manchester United: One year on from David Moyes, the Dutchman shows the way to take over United
Assured, independent and without any pleading to Rooney – it was a far cry from David Moyes
A film extolling the virtues of Louis van Gaal was playing in Old Trafford’s Europa Suite in the minutes before he stepped out of a side door for his first piece of public theatre as Manchester United manager.
Teddy Sheringham, Frank de Boer and Clarence Seedorf all contributed. “He is smart, very smart. He sees possibilities to make players better,” it was said of him as soft music played behind an image of the Dutchman standing among his new players, a far-away look in his eyes. If David Moyes, at The Open on Thursday, had caught a glimpse of a television screen, he might have concluded that it was never like that for him.
Van Gaal hardly needed the promotional push. The development of his English might remain in its early stages, causing his momentary struggle with the word “empathetic,” but the air of independence he displayed could scarcely have contrasted more with Moyes’ beginnings in the very same room, 377 days ago.
Moyes’s first mention of Sir Alex Ferguson came 16 words into his press conference. It was 18 minutes before Van Gaal referenced ”Sir Alec,” in the course of his explanation of how his own “strong personality” did not make him “autocratic.”
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It was past and present managers’ respective discussions of Wayne Rooney which best illustrate how United have moved on. Moyes used his press conference to make a thinly veiled pitch to the England striker, agitating to leave for Chelsea at the time, but Rooney would have taken a distinct lack of assurance away from Van Gaal’s answer to the question of how important the 28-year-old’s experience was to him and the team.
“You have to know, I am not always convinced of the experience of players,” he said. “It’s very important we have experienced players but not always in age and not only football experience but also as a human being. Because my philosophy is not just the football player but [the individual] in total. [In that respect], there are not so many experienced players.”
He cited Michael Carrick and Seedorf, a 16-year-old when Van Gaal gave him his Ajax debut but “sometimes more experienced than a player who was 30 years.” He concluded: “It always depends on the personality.”
This talk of the “human being” is part of the totale mens principe, the “total person priniciple”, which has always been the fundamental tenet of Van Gaal’s philosophy. His assessment of the individual behind the player – his commitment to the sport, the hours he keeps, his partner and family – inform whether Van Gaal has a role for him and what that role is.
It is not a judgemental philosophy: the young Patrick Kluivert’s part in causing another man’s death in a car crash in 1995 was no impediment to Van Gaal believing in him. But the 62-year-old will spend the next three or four weeks observing, listening, becoming more familiar with his players’ families than any manager they have known – and on that basis, rather than Rooney’s individual abilities, decide whether he needs him, or not.
There was no sense that Rooney will be the next United captain he had once expected to be, with Robin van Persie the more probable candidate now. “I have to get to know them [over] four, five, six weeks,” Van Gaal said. “For me the captain’s role it is very important and therefore I need time,” he added, his words not scratching the surface of his preparatory methods for a job he would have rather started in January.
Louis van Gaal speaks to the press today After only his second day at the Carrington training complex, on Thursday Van Gaal declared that its pitches were too exposed to the wind. “The facility needs a little more intimacy,” he said. “I have asked already because now it’s an open field but there is always wind. And wind is not a friend of the players or the ball.”
Ferguson, who considered the creation of the Carrington base a fine legacy, was not the elephant in the room he had been a year ago. He was afforded a courtesy by Van Gaal, with brief reference to their encounters at Uefa’s elite coach forums, and there was the customary joke about drinking coffee and wine with him. “Maybe the better wine I can imagine….!”
But it was Sir Bobby Charlton who arrived in the conference room with him and who, having posed briefly for pictures and metaphorically passed over the keys, was gone. Ferguson had telephoned to offer congratulations, Van Gaal said. There are loose plans about dining together some time.
Behind some of the headline messages which take United a long way from Moyes pragmatism – “for me the challenge is always first and not fourth,” he said – was a palpable sense of how vast the size of resurrecting the club is.
At Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Van Gaal looked to introduce the same football philosophy at all levels of the club. It will be at least two years before he can look to do so here, he said. “The owners and the [chief executive] Ed Woodward have asked me to give advice [on that], but the main project is the first team.
“The first team is more short term than the youth education which is long term. The first two years we have to separate them. Because now I need all my knowledge to transfer my philosophy into this selection. You have to give me time to do that. Not only you, but the chief executive and the owners.”
The severe injury sustained by Carrick on Tuesday – a chipped bone in his left ankle which will keep him out for 10 to 12 weeks – had clearly grieved the Dutchman. “He is out for a long time. Too long for me,” he said. But he won’t be losing sleep over it.
When Moyes sat in this room last July he related how “Sir Alex just told me I was the next United manager.. and the blood drained from my face,” but it is a rather different story now. “There is a lot of expectation here, but also a great challenge because of that,” Van Gaal said. “And therefore I have chosen this club.”
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