The not-so secret agenda of Louis van Gaal
May 2013, Old Trafford; Sir Alex Ferguson urges Manchester United fans to have faith in his and the club’s judgement in appointing new manager, David Moyes.
August 13th, 2014
“Your job now is to back the manager” he said. 90% of United fans immediately granted Fergie his wish, but, as point by point was pilfered away and unwanted record after unwanted record was created, United fans lost patience and (eventually) the board did too, once Champions League qualification was a mathematical impossibility.
I was one of those who backed Moyes, believing his early days were being spent assessing the squad while his romancing of wantaway striker, Rooney, was part of his master plan to carry United on from where Fergie left off.
Credit where credit is due I thought. Rooney was a marked man under the previous regime but Moyes was being strong enough to go with his own mind.
Bravely ushering the old backroom staff out replacing it with his own trusted comrades was just that, brave, if not a little risky also. Taking his time in the transfer market was all part of the plan too (I thought), Moyes was going up in my estimation. He was taking his time to figure out what we needed and who fitted the bill before pouncing to obtain their services.
Then, nothing happens to address the squad’s frailties until we sign Marouane Fellaini for more than his release clause on the final day of the transfer window and bells began to ring.
Nothing, literally nothing during the following months offered any semblance of a tactical plan or a style of play to suggest any of that pre-season optimism was little more than blind faith. Moyes was a fraud; a weak, clueless fraud.
Fast forward to today and Louis van Gaal is executing his agenda task by task and has me thinking all the same things, only this time, it’s very – very – different.
Replacing the backroom staff has been a requirement as opposed to a choice this time around and, from what I hear, the new coaches have been fairly well received. Carrington has been quickly assessed and the previously ignored issue of ‘high winds’ being quickly identified and rectified because “wind is not a friend of the ball”. The playing surface at Carrington is not identical to that of Old Trafford either and therefore quickly added to the ‘to-do list’. Van Gaal means business, and he’s wasting no time making necessary improvements where he sees fit and that includes his squad.
Conversely to Moyes, Van Gaal really is assessing the squad and, on the face of it, it appears every member has a chance to impress. But the biggest difference is that Van Gaal actually knows what he needs and what he’s looking for because he has a set philosophy which, unlike his football, is as rigid as any manager before him. In addition, Van Gaal exudes confidence and speaks with assurance and positivity using vocabulary such as ‘win’, ‘succeed’ and ‘now’ rather than ‘hopefully’, ‘rebuild’ and ‘unlucky’.
On arrival, Van Gaal quickly, attentively and respectfully welcomed the youngsters into his office individually, laying bare his intentions, insisting they must stay and fight for a place (in the first team) if they think they have what it takes, thus leaving peripheral players in no doubt where their future lies. One assumes those opting for a loan have chosen a future away from Old Trafford. Those opting to stay were encouraged to ‘trust me’ by the manager.
If ever United needed a positive pre-season tour it was the tour just passed. Seven matches, seven positive results. Eyebrows were raised when United revealed their tour squad with recent debutants, Wilson and Lawrence, omitted. But the truth behind those omissions is; they’re safe.
Van Gaal has faith in those already experienced at the club – ie: Ryan Giggs – to know they have a future at the club. Judging players further up the pecking order with a shadow over their future was a higher priority and the tour gave him that opportunity.
It’s only my view but I believe (ordered in current priority) Anderson, Fellaini, Nani, Hernandez, Valencia, Rafael, and Cleverley are all (or ‘will all’ dependant on transfers in) be surplus to requirements and face exiting the club at Van Gaal’s behest sooner rather than later.
Van Gaal will have learned he’s light on quality whereas quantity is not an issue. He’ll know players many of us won’t be aware of. He’ll know exactly who’s needed and what needs improving. Why? Because he understands his own philosophy back-to-front.
Now’s the time Ed Woodward comes into play. Now’s the time Van Gaal finds out if there’s any value in Woodward’s words or if they’re as inflated as the price of a dynamic, box-to-box midfielder.
With less than a week to go until the season kicks off, Van Gaal’s to-do list is ticked up-to-date with little-to-no hiccups along the way. Get him the players he needs and watch him reinstall the pride that was so dented last season. Fail to deliver on promises, Ed, and risk derailing the momentum he’s so quickly created within a squad depleted of confidence.
Momentum can only get us so far.
Put your money where your mouth is, Ed.