What system will Louis van Gaal employ at Manchester United? Expect a machine of young talents and no room for dictators

The Dutchman has begun work on instilling his philosophy - one that will suit some players much more than others

Los Angeles

"A new manager with different ideas," was Wayne Rooney's first public assessment of Louis van Gaal today, hinting at the kind of technical revolution we are about to see at Manchester United.

It is a revolution with which English football has not always been comfortable. When Arnold Muhren arrived from the Netherlands at Ipswich Town in 1978 and spent his first match chasing up and down the touchline after Liverpool’s Terry McDermott, he promptly told manager Bobby Robson that the linesman would have been better suited for that role and that if he wanted to get the best out of him, “then give me the ball.” Robson did. Muhren flourished and went on to play for United.

Van Gaal’s relentlessly attacking system of football has been characterised by many as more of a machine than a brand of possession football; a philosophy learned from his great Ajax mentor Rinus Michels which involves pressing and squeezing space, constantly passing, running and re-organising space on the field until gaps open up in the opposition defence. “With space so congested, the most important thing is ball circulation,” is how Van Gaal has described the blueprint. “The team that creates the quickest football is the best.”

Video: Louis van Gaal unveiled as Manchester United boss
Read more: Van Gaal's 'difficult decisions'
Mata 'really happy'
Evra completes move to Juventus

For players like Rooney, who observed that “we have to train well and listen to what he wants us to do and take that onto the pitch and show him what we can do,” the days ahead will be a supreme test of technical and tactical ability. Muhren, who helped United win the 1983 FA Cup during his three years at the club, has explained how there is a requirement in this Dutch system for individuals to play football with their “brains” not their “feet” and think in advance of receiving the ball exactly what to do with it. “Before I get the ball I can already see someone moving in front of me,” Muhren said. “So when he ball arrives I don’t have to think about it. And I don’t have to watch the ball because I have the right technique.” That is a good encapsulation of the more cerebral kind of football Van Gaal seems to be preparing to ask United to produce.

Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney pictured on Manchester United's pre-season tour Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney pictured on Manchester United's pre-season tour  

Not all United’s players have displayed such qualities in abundance. Phil Jones does not play with his head up. Tom Cleverley requires two or three touches before he ferries the ball. Michael Carrick, by contrast, looks like a Van Gaal player. He is two-footed, but will often control the weaker left and deliver the difficult, forward pass with his right to ‘break the lines’ of a game. If Van Gaal had worked with Cleverley and indeed the outgoing Anderson, they might have lived up to expectations, though it will be a new generation which now benefits from Van Gaal’s legendary capacity to tutor and develop young talent. The United youngsters out here are Reece James, Tyler Blackett, Michael Keane and Jesse Lingard, with defender Keane and attacking midfielder Lingard the most talented of that quartet and Lingard perhaps best equipped to take Van Gaal’s ideas on board. Blackett's inclusion becomes more relevant following United’s confirmation that Patrice Evra is to leave for Juventus. He could deputise for Shaw, though is actually 15 months older than him.

Read more: Are United in pole position for Hummels?
Expect more signings - Woodward

Beyond the touring squad, United’s upcoming trio of Ben Pearson, Andreas Pereira  (both midfielders) and Saidy Janko, the 19-year-old Swiss right sided defender/midfielder signed from FC Zurich last summer, are others who seem to possess the technical component which could see them flourish under Van Gaal. The more prosaic concern is how Van Gaal can create a defence to protect the side which is doing so much to create. Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Jones and Rafael da Silva all still have work to do to convince that they are defensive pillars of the future for United

 

Van Gaal will spend hours explaining what he wants because, despite the autocratic image, communication with his players is at the core of his philosophy. He has always wanted to be the pater familias of his club, which seems to explain why he is at his best with a young squad such as the Ajax group he took to Champions League triumph in 1995. He likes to create a culture for which the Dutch word is Gezelligheid (roughly, ‘cosy’). The difficulties occur when egos and personalities get in the way of the collective, democratic ethos, with Franck Ribery, Luca Toni, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Rivaldo among those he has clashed with over the years. You can't be a dictator in a Van Gaal team.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is among those to have fallen out with Van Gaal Zlatan Ibrahimovic is among those to have fallen out with Van Gaal  

He also works scientifically at creating the right conditions for a harmonious collective. When he became Netherlands manager in 2012, after the disastrous 2012 Euro Championships campaign, he became personally involved in changing a whole floor of the hotel in which the squad usually stayed.

Before his reign players often stayed in their hotel rooms, playing computer games or chatting with their closest team mates. So he created a big room in with table tennis tables, tables to play card games, a wide screen TV to watch football together etc. A “safe haven,” as he described it. For the Brazil World Cup he designed a player bus along the same lines. It is an old-fashioned kind of ‘togetherness’ that he wants for the squad. He rails against what he calls “the computer society” - players insulated against the outside world by headphones and who are consumed by the modern distractions technology creates.

Netherlands' coach Louis van Gaal (R) looks on as Netherlands' forward and captain Robin van Persie (C) shakes hands with Netherlands' forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar Netherlands' coach Louis van Gaal (R) looks on as Netherlands' forward and captain Robin van Persie (C) shakes hands with Netherlands' forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar  

What he asks in return for this paternalistic approach is players who think for themselves and come up with ideas. That explains why he has been so fond of players like Clarence Seedorf, Jari Litmanen, Frank Rijkaard and Robin van Persie. “There is always a manager but he is never really the boss,” goes one Dutch saying which encapsulates the philosophy.

We may see a little of the new United in the early hours of Thursday, UK time. Expect to see play building up from the back against LA Galaxy and to see players becoming interchangeable: wide midfielders making forward runs to create space for the striker and if one player comes back to receive the ball, another making a forward run. The Naranja Mecanica (‘Orange Machine’) as the South Americans have described it cannot be learned overnight. The early days may be bumpy. This is the United we are about to come to know.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own