Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Players suspect he was having tapes sent to Brazil whilst still in charge of the Netherlands and that the HD footage will be used to view close-ups of their faces, assessing when they are fatigued
Jonny Evans thought he knew all about scrutiny after eight years in the white heat of Manchester United but the last two weeks have taken it to another level. Louis van Gaal’s relentless quest to analyse which of his players will belong to the club’s future have seen him install video surveillance equipment at the training facilities where the club have worked across the United States. The scrutiny of it has been painstaking.
“I think it’s a lot more detailed at the training ground,” says Evans, of the battery of camera equipment which also awaits the players back home at Carrington. “They have spent thousands on it and a few of the lads have seen HD cameras around the pitch.” He is right. Van Gaal has ordered an investment of £500,000 on this technology above the practice pitches in Manchester. The suspicion among United’s players is that he was having footage sent to him even when he was at the World Cup with the Netherlands, allowing him to begin his assessments while the players worked with Ryan Giggs and Albert Stuivenberg, the new assistant coach. This scrutiny of training sessions is something new to British football.
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The tour of the US has provided a sense of the re-shaped priorities. Game discipline is everything to Van Gaal – “how to play the ball on time. Be in space on time. The way you pass the ball to a teammate in relation to an opponent. Thinking collectively during possession and when losing the ball,” as he once described it. This is the precision he has been demanding – not least of Evans, one of the three-man central defence who is being asked to play a high line, defending in the opposition territory at times, and yet be aware of covering for others when the moment demands.
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“He is saying ‘you should be five yards to the right,’” Evans relates. “We are able to see things that are happening live on the pitch. We went through a video last night and I was ten yards out! There are things you are doing on the pitch, and the whole team will be feeling the same, and you are thinking ‘am I in the right position?’ Then he will show you in the video and you will know.” It was certainly never like this with Sir Alex Ferguson. “The case before was that as long as we got the results everything was fine,” Evans says. David Moyes ventured into video analysis territory but not to this extent.
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The feeling among the players is that Van Gaal, who had similar surveillance gear erected at Sabener Strasse, Bayern Munich's training ground, will be looking to use the HD footage to view close-ups of their faces, assessing when they are fatigued. But their concentration levels are just as likely to be scrutinised. Van Gaal perceives concentration during a 60-minute training session as a prerequisite and any player who loses focus in that hour as a potential weak link, whose mind could wander during a game. “When I see that someone loses his concentration I explode,” he once said. "They know that. And they never get angry over that. I think that they kind-of like it that I have such a primal response. They realise I need it.” Endurance training has never been important to him.
Evans appears to have the qualities that Van Gaal demands. It is understood that he is the centre-half the Dutchman is most impressed with, because he views him as a player more comfortable than Phil Jones or Chris Smalling in bringing the ball out of defence and passing. Van Gaal, who admitted on Tuesday night that he was looking for more defenders, is desperate to sign a left-footed centre-back as he does not want three right-footed operators across the back three. That is why Arsenal captain Thomas Vermalen fits the bill. He is understood to covet a back-line, right to left, of Evans, Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels and Vermaelen.
Van Gaal also told the British national press this week that it may be three months before the new-look 3-4-1-2 United formation clicks and the players have received that message. “He said the same to us: ‘You will find it hard,’"Evans relates. “Not so much the tactics and results but find it hard mentally because he is demanding and he wants us all to push ourselves to the limit. That is what it feels like. We are all going to bed and sleeping well, anyway.” Van Gaal has incidentally also installed sleep pods at Carrington, so players can achieve maximum rest before or after sessions. There are also now floodlights on the main practice pitch, enabling the squad to train in the evenings.
Evans agrees that it would be regrettable if the players began overthinking what they are doing. “You don’t want to lose your instinct and I think that is the case with a lot of footballers. You see especially attacking players with flair, you don’t want to take away their natural ability to score goals. You look at Wayne Rooney [last Saturday against AS Roma]. He bent one in to the top corner and scored a fantastic goal. The question is ‘do you lose that sort of thing by thinking too much? But I don’t think you do. I don’t think the manager thinks you can think enough.”
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Van Gaal actually said on Monday that he wants the players to “know why they do something” rather than play “intuitively.” But it is something emotional, rather than cerebral, which tells this group that they have reputations to rebuild. “It was a hard time to be a Manchester United player [last year] because.. you don’t want to be that player or part of that team that didn’t qualify for the Champions League,” Evans reflects. “But it happened. People are now saying Manchester United can’t win the league. That is a big motivation to us.”
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