With Manchester United’s appointment of Louis van Gaal as the next United manager looking ever imminent, I’ve taken a look at the characteristics the passionate Dutchman shares with United’s most successful manager; Sir Alex Ferguson.
Throughout the Ferguson era, Manchester United was renowned for always having young, British talent in the squad. Whether it was players who had come through the ranks like the “Class of ‘92” or invested players such as Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, youth was the thumbnail of many United sides that contributed to much success in Ferguson’s 27-year reign.
During his time in the Netherlands, Germany and Spain, van Gaal also shared this ethos with his club sides of Ajax, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Over the course of three title-winning seasons with Ajax, van Gaal oversaw the development of players such as Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf; just to name a few. Plus, in an interview with FIFA last year, the 62-year-old Dutchman reiterated his eternal belief that “age is not important” when comprising a team.
It’s fair to say that Sir Alex was never shy of refusing an interview during his time at the Manchester United. Amongst many incidents, Ferguson is famed for having a seven-year boycott from the BBC, claiming the company was “arrogant beyond belief” after they refused to apologise for what Sir Alex considered an unfair portrayal of his son Jason in the 2004 BBC3 documentary ‘Father and Son’. This, as well as spats with Sky Sports and a tightly-knit running of the United newsroom had an effect on his representation in the media, yet not on the success of his teams.
Not too distant from Sir Alex in his attitudes towards the press, van Gaal has had countless incidents which in some cases have threatened the stability of his job. In three successful but criticised seasons in charge of Barcelona, van Gaal bowed out in ill-manner when his side lost the La Liga title, saying “Friends of the press. I am leaving. Congratulations.” Infamously, the Dutchman also walked out on live television after he discovered that he wouldn’t be the pundit on the following week’s show. Robbie Savage doesn’t seem so bad now, does he?
Playing With Width
There’s 75 yards of width on a football pitch, you may as well use it. And to what an affect Sir Alex Ferguson did. Manchester United has always been a club renowned for the nurturing of young wingers, with such examples being Beckham, Ronaldo and Giggs. Using the touchline effectively was what made Manchester United such a great team to watch in the Ferguson era, with the pace and power on the flanks attributing to much domestic success.
Though a strong believer in the formation of 4-3-3, a formation usually associated with narrow, short passing football, van Gaal is a strong believer in using the flanks to positive effect. Part of the alumni from the school of Total Football (a playing style employed by the Dutch in the 1970s whereby players play in transferrable positions on the pitch), high-pressure, full-throttle football is what van Gaal loves to see in his teams.
What made Sir Alex dominant over his 27-year tenure was his ability to maintain control of the club whatever the measure. When Roy Keane’s controversial nature was too much; he was shown the door, when van Nistelrooy’s attitude outweighed his talent; he was shown the door. No matter what the player, if they thought they were bigger than the team, the manager, the club – they were out of there. Control of the dressing room was vital to Fergie and he didn’t mind letting his mouth be the dictator of that.
Different to Fergie, van Gaal sometimes lost players in the dressing room due to his adverse training regimes and coaching principles. Bust-ups with Rivaldo over his position in the team contributed to a dark end to his stay at Barcelona, with Mehmet Scholl, a former colleague of van Gaal, saying “there are 26, 27 players [in a squad] and he is looking for the 14, 15, 16 to follow”. The hairdryer isn’t just left in the dressing room though, van Gaal is famed for humiliating journalists who’s questions aren’t to his liking.
Leaving A Legacy
Some say the legacy Sir Alex built left too much pressure on David Moyes and it probably did. Years of success which saw Manchester United transform from a big club to an empire has left expectation for any manager willing to pioneer the Old Trafford dugout. Morals of the club set by Matt Busby in the 50s and 60s were reinstated by Ferguson in terms of using young, British talent to obtain success, whilst the attacking nature of Manchester United is something that simply can’t be challenged.
Having managed the top clubs in the respective leagues of the Netherlands, Spain and Germany, van Gaal has helped massively in ensuring future success for those clubs after his tenure at each of them. Spanish football expert Guillem Balague is quoted as saying “If you want to understand what's happened with Barcelona in the last decade or so, you have to go back to the job he (van Gaal) put in there. If you want to understand what Bayern Munich are now, you have to understand what he did at Bayern Munich.”
With some reports suggesting the appointment of van Gaal could take place in the following week, the Dutchman remains odds-on with all bookmakers to take to the Old Trafford helm. Get your combs out, the hairdryer’s returning.
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