In his first piece for TFN, Kammonke Obase-Wotta looks at why Louis Van Gaal is set to succeed as the new Manchester United manager…
As the World Cup comes to a thrilling end, it is time to say goodbye and turn our attentions to one of the most anticipated soap operas of the year; the English Premier league. As last season drew to a close after another drama-filled year, the news of David Moyes’ sacking came as no surprise and was greeted with sighs of relief from the Manchester United faithful.
I can remember vividly the last three games of the season and watching Manchester United’s poor performances. After one of the matches I got involved in a heated discussion about whether or not United would bounce back. I remember saying something like, “Manchester United has probably two to three years to bounce back, based on the fact that Liverpool flopped and were out of the Champions League for over four seasons.” Fast-forward three months and I am rethinking my stance. Why? It is quite simple – because of the virtuoso tactician, Louis Van Gaal.
After watching him this world cup, I think it is safe to say Manchester United has probably made the most important signing of the summer in Van Gaal. He brings experience, charisma, an irrefutable attacking and winning mentality, and of course the ‘Dutch connection’.
His bond with his compatriots, and in particular Robin van Persie, was apparent in Brazil. We can expect further Dutch arrivals at United, with the likes of Daley Blind and Kevin Strootman linked with the club. We have seen these national ‘connections’ before in the Premier League, with different coaches like Jose Mourinho and most notably Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal coach has always been noted for his preference of French players and he has achieved a lot of success with his compatriots. Since he took over at Arsenal in 1996, quality French players such as Anelka, Henry, Vieria and Pires have all donned the red and white jersey of Arsenal. His 2004 Invincibles was based around the French duo of Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera. Unlike the other coaches, Van Gaal has prior national coaching experience, so he is familiar with the Dutch players in the Manchester United team and the ones he might be looking to bring and he certainly knows how to manage them.
With the likes of Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra all departing, Van Gaal is faced with the task of rebuilding the United defence with players such as Blind and De Vrij touted as replacements. We saw Van Gaal play a 3-4-3 formation for most of the tournament; it is likely that he would employ the same formation in Manchester United. Should he do so, Van Gaal would be looking for pacy players that can turn defence into attack as we have seen most especially with Arjen Robben. Although Robben has refuted any suggestions that he is heading to Old Trafford, Van Gaal would be looking for a Robben-esque player who isn’t afraid to go at his opponents and play good counter attacking football. Nani would have been that type of player three years ago, but his form has dipped gravely and Valencia is rather inconsistent and unproductive. Di Maria was linked with a move but it appears he will now be heading to PSG.
Van Gaal aligned his tactics according to his opposition throughout the World cup and has played mainly a counter-attacking style of football; he has made it clear that he would be looking to replicate that same style with Manchester United. This would benefit the new Manchester United setup as they filter their old players and are bringing in new energetic talents.
He has shown his new charges his competence; his managerial record is something to brag, about winning the Eredivise with Ajax from 1994 to 1996. In the 1994 season he remarkably went unbeaten both in the League and the Champions league. Van Gaal has also won UEFA super cup with Barcelona and domestic titles with both Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Although he lost in the semi-final against Argentina in Brazil, he guided his team to third place. So his credibility is not in question. He is a calculated risk-taker, with his strategic decision-making evident in the Netherlands quarterfinal victory over Costa-Rica where he brought on Tim Krul in the 129th minute in anticipation of the penalty shoot out. Tim Krul went on to save two penalties and Van Gaal’s flexible tactics came to the rescue. Mourinho, Van Gaal’s former pupil and assistant coach in Barcelona, has lauded him, claiming, “He was the best coach of the world cup”.
It is not only his match-reading ability that is key but the management of his players. He has already shown that once after Nigel De Jong recovered surprisingly from the injury he sustained against Costa Rica. That sort of management would be key with players such as Van Persie, who are injury prone and key to Manchester United’s title challenge.
As Van Gaal officially takes over as Manchester United coach this week, he will begin a new journey, in a new environment and he will certainly hope that he would have better fortunes than his predecessor, David Moyes. With an impressive CV such as his, and an enhanced reputation, the odds are stacked in his favour and with the support of the Manchester United board every thing is set for him to flourish. Now we can only wait for the looming Premier League season and see whether the “Master tactician” has more tricks up his sleeves.