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What can United expect under Louis Van Gaal?

LGV_nowLast night, as Maxi Rodriguez’s penalty squeezed past Jasper Cillessen’ hands, many of us would have experienced contrasting feelings. The disappointment of not seeing Louis Van Gaal and Robin Van Persie clinching their place in a World Cup final was more than atoned for by the knowledge that, once the mundane affair that is the third spot playoff is dealt with, a new era will officially begin at Manchester United.

Since Van Gaal was appointed as David Moyes’ successor almost two months ago, we have spent hours, days even, reading about the 62-year-old’s achievements, every Holland training session has been scrutinised to fully understand his methods and every game has been analysed, in a bid to get a glimpse of the brand of football we can expect at Old Trafford come August 15th.

With the Oranje just one game away from concluding their World Cup campaign and United’s US tour less than two weeks away many of the questions will soon be answered, while a few new faces will hopefully be added. Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw represent an excellent start to the transfer window but United are still a couple of signings short of return to the level we had been used to.

When Van Gaal was appointed, various pundits and journalists focused on his abrasive attitude, one which, according to them, could alienate press and players alike. As far as annoying the former category is concerned, Van Gaal  should have nothing to fear and he’d indeed represent a welcome return to the Sir Alex Ferguson’s days when the press was a hindrance to be dealt with, rather than a tool through which win some sort of morale support, as was the case under Moyes.

Van Gaal’s attitude to his players during the World Cup has been a contributing factor in Holland’s run to the semifinals, with Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt among those voicing their respect and total commitment to the former Ajax manager. The Oranje camp was a happy one, wives and girlfriends were allowed in Holland’s hotel and the players took the pitch with a relaxed, concentrate mindset, a world away from last season’s United, in other words.

Such was the total trust and belief in their manager, that every single one of Van Gaal’s decisions – replacing Robin Van Persie, the captain, against Mexico and bringing on Tim Krul sixty seconds before their penalty shootout against Costa Rica – was met with widespread approval.

Van Gaal’s attitude towards Van Persie goes a long way in describing the 62-year-old’s approach. Alongside Arjen Robben, RVP is Holland’s best player and while his performances somewhat petered out after the group stages, he looked a different player from the one who had sulked his way through Moyes’ tenure at Old Trafford. Yet, for all the mutual appreciation Van Persie and his manager share, Van Gaal did not hesitate to replace him against Mexico, once he’d deemed him not fit to perform.

Where Moyes admitted leaving an unfit Van Persie on the pitch because he feared the press backlash had he substituted the Dutchman, Van Gaal brought on Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who netted the winner.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but Van Gaal’s proactivity hasn’t shone through merely through his substitutions.


The Holland manager changed his formation throughout the World Cup, in attempt to maximise the talent at his disposal in what is a good – potentially really good – but by no means great Holland team.

Against Spain, Van Gaal abandoned his preferred 4-3-3 to adopt a 3-5-2 which ensured the Oranje had two extra men in midfield when in possession and two extra men in defence when defending, while he switched back to a 4-3-3 against Chile and even deployed a 4-4-2 formation as Holland were chasing the game against Mexico.

Having laboured through a season of reactive football where the mantra was to “make things difficult” for their opponents, United can now look forward to embrace a proactive approach, one in which ball retention and movement are essential as is tactical flexibility.

While Van Gaal has always placed emphasis on attacking football, to describe him as one who would sacrifice results to please the aesthetes is rather wide of the mark, for, as he demonstrated against Argentina, the 62-year-old is more than happy to transform his blitzkrieg approach into a war of trenches, if needs be.

Against Chile, Van Gaal opted for a 5-3-2 formation to limit Chile’s offensive threat and was criticised by Dutch legend Johan Cruyff for not playing “the Dutch way” and when a journalist quizzed him about his perceived defensive approach, the barbed response came. “Since you’re so clever, why don’t you define attacking football for me?” barked Van Gaal.

How United will set up next season remains to be seen and Van Gaal’s plans might indeed change depending on the players Ed Woodward might or might not be able to sign in the remaining two months of the transfer window, but the Dutchman has shown few managers are better than him at maximising a player’s potential.

At Ajax and Bayern Munich as well as with Holland, Van Gaal’s ability in nurturing young talents has been bettered only by his bravery for throwing them at the deep end of the pool, often defying logic and public opinion.

In Adnan Januzaj, James Wilson and Nick Powell, United have talents that need polishing, while Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck will be expected to finally step up and establish themselves as key figures within the team and working under Van Gaal could either make them or break them.

Van Gaal often tends to fit one of his systems to the players rather than vice-versa, which could mean United might begin the season with a rather familiar looking 4-2-3-1, with Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Januzaj behind Van Persie. The prospect of watching United dashing forward and putting opponents to the sword is tantalising but the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager knows football is a result-driven business and it might take a gradual transition for United before combining style with results.

Strap yourselves on, it’s gonna be a hell of a ride.