Louis van Gaal: ‘Players don’t like him and want to kill him’ says Manchester City's Ferran Soriano

Soriano acknowledged in speech that the Dutchman did “win”, but insisted that an ability to listen and understand players – rather than authoritarianism and “character” - is needed to succeed in football management

Manchester City chief executive, Ferran Soriano, has described Louis van Gaal, the prime candidate to replace David Moyes at Old Trafford, as a manager who players “don’t like” and who they want to “kill” when the team starts to lose.

Soriano told a business leadership conference in Abu Dhabi that Van Gaal, who anticipates becoming United’s manager by next week – possibly Wednesday - had a management style that was “difficult”.

Though Soriano acknowledged that the Dutchman did “win”, he insisted that an ability to listen and understand players – rather than authoritarianism and “character” - is needed to succeed in football management. The Spaniard sacked Roberto Mancini last year because the same high-handed management style was destroying the team spirit at the Etihad.

Van Gaal’s fiery relationships at clubs have contributed to him spending a short time at each – two years at Bayern Munich and three years at Barcelona – with a second, unhappy half-season spell in 2002-03 coinciding with Soriano’s arrival as vice-president at the Nou Camp.

Though United face a difficult task finding a role which keeps interim manager Ryan Giggs happy in the new manager’s set-up, one positive outlook for him is that Van Gaal does not tend to hang around for long in one place. After two years working for the Dutchman, he could have the full managerial experience which has excluded him from contention to replace Moyes.

In his conference speech, made in March but which came to light on today, Soriano said: “If you treat your people bad, they remember. One day you make an error and they kill you. I’ve seen this in many clubs. Louis van Gaal has been a very good coach in many clubs but his style is very difficult. The same thing happened to him in Barcelona as in Bayern Munich.

“He is very tough, people don’t like him, but he wins. And one day you don’t win – and when you don’t win, everybody that is angry with you will come back to you and try to kill you. In the movies this works, in real life it doesn’t.

Ferran Soriano, the City chief executive, has written a book on how to be a good leader Ferran Soriano, the City chief executive, has written a book on how to be a good leader (Getty Images)
“One thing I have learned in football is that leadership is a very difficult thing. You need to choose your leadership style based on what your team needs, not your character. This is counter-intuitive. People think a good leader is someone with character. I say a good leader is someone who can listen to the team, understand the kind of leadership a team needs and apply it.”

Soriano was speaking six weeks before the sacking of Moyes but he has been candid in his views about Van Gaal in the past. In his 2009 management book, Soriano discussed the Dutchman’s “usual shouts in his well-known direct style” and quotes an experienced Barcelona player who said he “didn’t listen to Van Gaal much, although he did yell a lot. But when Frank Rijkaard [Van Gaal’s successor] comes into the dressing room I always listen to him because I see the three stars he wears on his shoulders. He has won the Champions League three times and I have never done it... so I listen to him.”

The line between authority and empathy is not a straightforward one: Soriano sacked Rijkaard and installed Pep Guardiola because the Dutchman had allowed his players to be fractionally less committed in the 2006-07 season. But Manuel Pellegrini has been hired at the Etihad because he understood players where Mancini did not. “Before you decide how to manage your team, decide what they need,” Soriano told the conference. “Do you need to be more direct? Do you need to delegate more? Do you need to be more of a coach? Are you able to manage people? How good are you? How much do you know about your job? How can you be a leader if you don’t manage people well and don’t know what you are talking about?”

Many would say these comments make sense. In his book, Soriano described Van Gaal as “an interesting example”. He stated: “He has won titles with different teams, big and small, and he’s thought to have little empathy and social skills.

“I couldn’t help but smile when I heard Uli Hoeness, Bayern Munich’s technical director, explain why Van Gaal wouldn’t continue to coach the Bavarian team: ‘Van Gaal doesn’t listen. It has to be whatever he said.’ It seems his reputation is justified.”

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