London - In Louis van Gaal, Manchester United have found a manager who will
respect their traditions, but who will also be determined to leave his
own imprint on the club.
As presidents and prime ministers are
often a reaction to the figures that go before them, so it is with
football managers, and Van Gaal is in many ways the antithesis of his
hapless predecessor, David Moyes.
Where Moyes offered only pluck
and the promise of hard work, Van Gaal is vastly experienced and boasts
league winner's medals from the Netherlands, Spain and Germany, as well
as a host of other honours.
The 62-year-old Dutchman also speaks
with a frankness verging on bluntness that will be completely at odds
with the meek and apologetic media sorties that came to characterise
Moyes's time at Old Trafford.
"Bravo, you've signed the best coach
in the world," is what van Gaal is reported to have said after being
promoted to head coach at Ajax in 1991, after several years in the
shadows working as an assistant to Leo Beenhakker.
Barcelona after a spell at Ajax in which he notably led the club to
Champions League glory in 1995, he declared: "I've won more with Ajax in
six years than Barca have in a century."
Where his experience chimes most resonantly with United's needs is his track record as a developer of young players.
of United's greatest coaches, Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson, built their
successes on a core of home-grown players and Van Gaal has shown
similar fearlessness when it comes to promoting nascent talent.
time at Ajax coincided with the emergence of an extraordinary
generation of Dutch players including Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert,
the De Boer brothers, Frank and Ronald, and Clarence Seedorf.
Barcelona he helped to launch modern Spanish greats Xavi and Andres
Iniesta, while David Alaba and Thomas Muller took their first steps as
professionals under his tutelage at Bayern Munich.
"I was a PE
teacher. I've always liked working with youngsters," explains Van Gaal,
who has described himself as "a relationships coach".He
has also played a pivotal role in the development of the world's two
pre-eminent coaches, having mentored a young Jose Mourinho at Barcelona,
where he installed Pep Guardiola as his captain.
will appreciate Van Gaal's commitment to attacking football, although
his attachment to the 4-3-3 formation may cause unease in a changing
room with only fleeting experience of the system.
While not wholly
inflexible on a tactical level, Van Gaal told Voetbal International in
2010: "I always look for players capable of adapting to my 4-3-3.
"It's for the player to adapt to my system, and not the other way round."
a renowned disciplinarian, Van Gaal will also be expected to deliver a
jolt to a group of players who never fully submitted to the authority of
Rivaldo, Franck Ribery, Wesley Sneijder, Luca Toni and
Gerard Pique are among a legion of players who can testify to both the
sharpness of his tongue and the folly of crossing him.
star players on the bench or criticising them publicly is a way for him
to affirm his authority," says Kluivert, who currently works alongside
Van Gaal as an assistant coach with the Dutch national team.
"For him, in short, names don't matter. Only talent and form are important."
The tale goes that when Pique was 14, his grandfather, a Barcelona director, invited him to lunch with Van Gaal.
warning, Van Gaal pushed him to the ground, before bellowing: "You're
too weak to be a Barcelona defender!" Pique proved Van Gaal wrong, but
the experience stayed with him.
As a young midfielder at Ajax in
the early 1970s, Amsterdam-born Van Gaal watched the development of
future superstars such as Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens at close
He never made the grade at Ajax and his playing career
was unremarkable, but as a coach he is a man who even superstars have
learnt to fear.