New boss Louis van Gaal is just what Manchester United need to give them an extra push, says Gerard Pique – who found out first-hand what it was life was like working under the fiery Dutchman.
The Spain defender was on the receiving end of a shove from the then-Barcelona boss Van Gaal as he came up through the Nou Camp club’s fabled La Masia academy.
And Pique insists that the Dutch ‘disciplinarian’ can be the right man to toughen up United’s limp displays from last term after they crashed down the Premier League table to finish seventh.
Speaking on Thursday at the St George’s Park National Football Centre in Burton upon Trent, where Barcelona are having a pre-season training camp this week, Pique said: “I think he will be great.
“I didn’t know him a lot because I was really young when he was Barcelona’s coach, but he had a really good relationship with my grandfather, the former vice-president of the club.
“I had the chance to see him one day at my grandfather’s house when I was 12 or 13 years old.
“He arrived at the house and he knew I was playing for the Barcelona youth team. He pushed me and I fell to the floor, and he said ‘you are not tough enough to be a centre-back’.
“So, yes, he really is a disciplinarian, and I think he will do brilliantly here.”
Pique returned to Barcelona in 2008 after a four-year-spell at Old Trafford amid rumours he was homesick, but he was keen to play that notion as he claimed that the lure of the Catalan club was too much to resist.
“No, the main reason was because Barcelona came to me and asked me to come back, and for me, Barcelona has always been my team – I always supported them,” Pique said.
“So I asked Sir Alex if he would let me go back. When Barcelona are saying they want you back, you will be a first-team player, you will have a chance to play in the Nou Camp, with all the atmosphere – obviously I wanted to come back.”
Pique, who was a part of the Barca sides who defeated United in the UEFA Champions League Final in 2009 and 2011, also had praise for United striker Wayne Rooney, his former team-mate.
“For me, Wayne Rooney is the best English player right now and definitely he would be in the top-10 (players in the world),” Pique said.
“He is a top-quality striker, the main player for Manchester United along with Robin van Persie, and he can play in every team in the world that he wants.”
Now, midfielder Ander Herrera is leading the Spanish inquisition at Old Trafford.
Herrera has already made an impact in pre-season after joining from Athletico Bilbao.
He had a hand in six of the seven goals scored in Van Gaal’s first match in charge, and his debut, against Los Angeles Galaxy.
With resident pass-master Michael Carrick ruled out for the first three months of the season with an ankle problem, there is a lot of pressure on Herrera’s shoulders so he is happy to have hit the ground running.
“I feel it has gone well for me so far,” Herrera said after Tuesday night’s penalty win over Inter Milan.
“I feel physically good and mentally I’m improving all the time.”
The £28.4million man is looking forward to getting underway at home to Swansea City in a fortnight’s time.
“I’m happy with how I’m doing on the pitch and all the players are helping me in terms of integrating.
“My confidence is increasing with every game and I’m excited for the season ahead.”
To bring silverware back to Old Trafford, Herrera will have to fill the boots of Paul Scholes.
The short-lived David Moyes era was doomed by the Scot’s inability to replace the missing creativity in the centre of the park after the United legend hung up is boots for a second time in 2013.
However, the new ITV and BT Sport pundit believes the main area the team needs strengthening is at the back though.
“He’s (Van Gaal) only got three recognised defenders,” said Scholes, who was speaking in his role as an ambassador for Men United v Prostate Cancer.
“Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett are coming through but as far as experience goes he’s missing a big chunk after losing Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra.
“Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans are all good defenders but they do have their own injury problems.
“Hopefully they can get over them and have a full season.
“I’m sure they’ll do well, but I think he’ll look to bring a couple of defenders in.”
While Van Gaal’s options are limited as he seeks to install a new 3-4-1-2 system, the Dutchman has had to deploy Ashley Young as a wing-back while new boy Luke Shaw proves his fitness.
“I am willing to stay there for the whole of the season, of course,” said Young, who drew criticism last season for poor displays and allegations of diving.
“I enjoyed playing out there. I played against AS Roma out there too so if the manager calls upon me to play there I’m more than delighted to do so.”
Young and his United team-mates landed in Detroit on Thursday ahead of their fourth game of the tour against Real Madrid.
The match against Carlo Ancelotti’s European champions, which takes place at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Stadium on the outskirts of Detroit, is expected to draw a record-breaking crowd of 109,000.
A win for Van Gaal’s team will send them through to the final of the International Champions Cup, which takes place on Monday in Miami’s Sun Life Stadium.