Why Van Gaal is a massive gamble

Ryan Giggs said last night that Manchester United “give youth a chance and play attacking football”. That sentence highlights the values in which Alex Ferguson stuck by this during his time at the club. Based on that belief United’s successor should have been recruited based on these same ideas. Now based on this it still remains a mystery as to why David Moyes was the man chosen. It was doomed from the start and so it proved. Which is why the next appointment is vital for United, simply they must get it right. Which is why Louis Van Gaal is somewhat surprising, as The Whitehouse Address discusses, he is a massive gamble.

Last summer was a new era for football. Alex Ferguson had retired, the Guardiola and Mourinho era had ended in Spain and German football was on the rise. There was a lot of change and movement, the game was in flux and big decisions needed to be made.

Had United planned more effectively, more strategically then they could have had their pick of Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti. They could have targeted Pep Guardiola but Bayern, a club whose vision and long term strategy is the best in Europe had already targeted and secured him. Yet Mourinho and Ancelotti, two of the best coaches this past decade were certainly available. And yet they opted for Moyes.

It’s incredible really when you think about it. There must have been 20 minimum other coaches who would have been suited for that job ahead of Moyes. It was not creative or intelligent but lunacy. He wasn’t ready for the job, had not proved he was and ultimately proved as much this past season. Now United are in a position where all the top coaches are tied up in their current roles. Last summer there were world class availabilities, this summer not so much.

Diego Simeone has become the hottest option based on his tremendous work at Atletico, yet his lack of English does make him a risk. Klopp is everyone’s favourite but he isn’t going anywhere for a years yet. Capello could be tempted away from Russia, or even Joachim Lowe could be available in the summer, but he is a bigger risk than most with such limited club experience. No, it appears that Louis Van Gaal has been the target from the moment Moyes position became precarious.

A good coach, yet massive risk

They targeted him one would imagine because of three things; his experience of winning trophies at big clubs, his development of youth players and his brand of football. All three elements suit the philosophy of United. In this respect he appears the perfect fit. And yet, Van Gaal is a massive risk.

In his early career as a manager he spent six years at Ajax after being promoted from Academy Manager to First Team Coach. It was a very good period for him, Uefa Cup in 1992, Champions League success in 1995 and three league titles. It was Ajax’s last great period before the club became massacred by the transfer market and financial might of the top leagues.

He would move to Barcelona in 1997 and win back to back league titles. Yet it was here where his problems started. At Ajax he knew the philosophy of the club, it was in line with his and so implementation was no issue. The players knew it because it was Ajax, pure and simple. At Barca this didn’t work as well, the media criticised his methods and character and he admitted himself that it was not easy for some players to grasp his philosophy. Spells with the Dutch national team and four years at AZ followed yet it was his time at Bayern however which should concern United.

It was tough start for Van Gaal at the Munich club and there was talk of him being sacked before even Christmas. Yet it turned into a great season for the club. He had stressed that the team needed to understand and grasp how he wanted to play so it proved. The signing of Robben and progression of young players in Muller, Badstuber and the conversion of Schweinsteiger into a central midfielder pointed to his vision and trust in youth.

He got the team working to his ways and would end up with winning the league and German cup and reaching the Champions League final, only to lose 2-0 to Jose Mourinho’s Inter. A near treble in his first season was impressive. It appeared he had got the team under his way, talk of a new contract was announced. And then Bayern would announce that he was to leave at the end of the next season. Because of this Bayern would capitulate that season and he would be sacked by April 2011. In the aftermath of the Van Gaal sacking there some very cutting and scathing remarks from Bayern’s President Uli Hoeness, “Football should be enjoyable, but there has been nothing enjoyable about football at FC Bayern for a while now. And to say that he had the players behind him was a myth.”

The problems had escalated when Van Gaal protested about the signing of Manuel Neuer from Schalke. As Hoeness says, “The Manuel Neuer issue would never have escalated like it did and we would never have had any problems with the fans. Problems were created which were totally unnecessary and which have ripped the club to pieces. Louis Van Gaal should consider what he has done.”

Perhaps Van Gaal was angry that the club had decided to replace him with Heynckes, or perhaps it was just his way to be confrontational (there is a history of the Dutch being this way.) Either way it appears he lost the players and the board very quickly. Is this a good sign for United?

Suited for United, suited for the modern game?

Personally I believe that Van Gaal is one of the games visionaries in terms of style and methods. He revolutionised Ajax and influenced coaches like Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho with his coaching philosophies. Yet because of his visionary approach he is single minded and stubborn in his ways.

His experiences at Barcelona and Bayern prove this. Big clubs end up falling out with him quite quickly. He is not good with the media and players don’t always see eye to eye with him. He has succeeded in Holland with Ajax, AZ and the national team because their culture understands and appreciates his ways more. Moving to United will not be easy for him or the club.

To say he is the best candidate for the job is understandable, yet as mentioned earlier that is because of poor planning last season when there were genuine quality available. Van Gaal feels desperate, like at 3am in a club when all the best girls have been taken and she’s the best choice remaining. You want a girl and end up with this one, yet regret the fact you missed out on the best before.

Ultimately Van Gaal may be what United need, discipline and structure after a season where the manager was not respected or listened to. Yet Van Gaal is a risk, he is 62 years old which points more to his stubbornness in old age more than anything, perhaps United may get three years from him. Yet will he last this long? Will he be too confrontational? There is a concern with Van Gaal that he does not suit the modern game, a time in football when man-management is the most important facet of a manger’s tool box.

Van Gaal is a dictator in his approach and very forthright in his views and opinions. Compare him to a Ancelotti who is more laid back and relaxed and you see the difference. Ancelotti understands modern players and what they want and need. Mourinho borders between the two camps. Yet Van Gaal is more like a Cruyff (however it is important to understand that Cruyff and Van Gaal have very different philosophical beliefs about the game and coaching) or Saachi in his approach to management and clearly dislikes the modern player and their power.

It seems almost inevitable he will fall out with Rooney as he will favour Van Persie. How will this affect the harmony after the club have backed Rooney as their star asset? And what about his strict tactical system? It may be attacking football but will United embrace it or will there be those complaining and struggling to adapt?

And what about the Giggs issue? People think having Ryan Giggs with him will help his role, in fact I believe this was destabilise his control. If Giggs does not believe in what he is saying whose side will he take? A manager needs loyalty and support from his assistants, not a turncoat who will stab him in the back when he is not happy. No, Van Gaal would be better suited to bring in his own assistant, perhaps even bring Rene Meulensteen back and either make Giggs youth team coach or allow him to leave.

This clamour for the class of ’92 is damaging for a new manager and United’s progression. It seems fans are seeking to hold on to the one thing which remains of the Ferguson years, yet these guys are not suited to the magnitude of a massive club like United.

Contemplating Making Giggs manager would be a seriously poor decision also, especially considering the track record of ex-Ferguson players who have not exactly excelled in management. Perhaps Ferguson just had that special something which cannot be replicated? Giggs has not shown anything to prove he is capable of management, yet alone managing the biggest club in world football. At least Van Gaal knows what it is like and what it takes.

A better option

United are in a precarious position, they must get this decision right. Yet this season has highlighted a worrying structural problem at the club. The departures of Ferguson and David Gill took away the leadership of the club, and this just hasn’t been replaced. Ed Woodward does not appear suited to his role, the CEO is more than just a commercial role but he is the one in control. Can you see him telling a Van Gaal what he wants? Compare this to an Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at Bayern, true football people with strategies and visions. United are lacking these kind of people at the top.

It does appear that United have Van Gaal tied up and ready to announce, yet this blog thinks that Frank De Boer would have been the better option. He shares the same philosophy of football as United, has certainly embraced youth more than perhaps any other coach in Europe right now and has won four Dutch titles in a row. Importantly he is youthful, fresh and ready for this kind of role. He clearly understands the needs of the modern game and players more than Van Gaal does. As well as this he would be seen more as a longer term appointment than Van Gaal in which time he could mould the structure into his ways. De Boer is best young coach in the game today, a big club move is inevitable. United should make their move before someone else does.

Any appointment is a risk, yet whereas Moyes was clearly not suited to the role and Van Gaal appears a serious gamble in terms of harmony De Boer does not seem as high risk.

The problem for any new incumbent is that the club has been seriously rocked by Moyes tenure, it has opened cracks which were hidden before and has destabilised one of the most consistent and dominant clubs in England. Will this damage be easily reversible or will any new coach struggle with what he inherits? What is for sure is the United drama continues.

By The Whitehouse Address (Tweet @The_W_Address)