Tuesday Team Talk: Spain crushing shows Van Gaal is real deal, but can he attract top players to Manchester?

What a difference a weekend can make.

Friday morning, and the hottest topic was either England’s World Cup chances or the lack of transfer activity at Manchester United.

Come Monday, it would be a wasted opportunity to not discuss the smoke issuing from the Old Trafford rumour mill with reference to one World Cup match in particular: the Netherlands’ destruction of holders Spain, orchestrated by new United boss Louis van Gaal.

Red Devils fans may have been feeling ill at ease with the idea of the Dutchman taking the helm in just over a month.

The general consensus is that, while Van Gaal is clearly a very good manager, he can also exhibit abrasiveness, tunnel-vision and autocratic tendencies, as alleged by various former players and colleagues.

Not exactly the ideal recipe for the kind of manager that Reds may have had in mind – you could argue that Sir Alex Ferguson was hardly full of grace, and who else could they bring in, Mourinho, the master of humility? – but at least Van Gaal has credentials that David Moyes probably never will.

He is also currently engaged with the Netherlands in Brazil, meaning that he cannot oversee any transfer business for at least the next few weeks in a summer when the Reds have a massive rebuilding operation to implement and moving quickly is imperative.

Coupled with the prospect of having to endure the well-trodden path of another ill-fated England World Cup campaign, and the situation was looking bleak in southwest Manchester.

But then Van Gaal’s side faced off against Spain in Salvador, and, following a tight first half, proceeded to rip the world champions apart like pre-season tour minnows.

It was Robin van Persie’s sumptuous headed equaliser that signalled the about-turn, but more important than the goal were the actions before and after it.

Having sulked his way through the 2013-14 domestic season, Van Persie looked to have reverted back to the player that scored 26 goals for United in the previous campaign.

The difference?

Unlike his tenuous relationship with Moyes, Van Persie is playing for a manager that he both respects and is respected by, which was summed up by the way he ran for Van Gaal in the aftermath of his leveller against Spain.

The former Bayern Munich and Barcelona manager had got his tactics dead-on, keeping his team regimented enough to disrupt the Spanish passing game but also allowing his players enough fluidity to counter uncompromisingly.

Van Persie’s head back in the right place and Arjen Robben pulling the strings, the Oranje proceeded to administer Spain’s biggest defeat since 1963 – a performance that must have left United fans wondering whether they might have hit the managerial jackpot.

Which brings us to the next point – the Old Trafford transfer mill.

While talk and hearsay have singled out players such as Toni Kroos, Arturo Vidal and Kevin Strootman as potential recruits, none of these rumours have proved to be anything other than that.

Ed Woodward and his top-table chums have promised £200 million or so, but with Van Gaal busy in Brazil and the executive vice-chairman having already displayed his transfer window ineptitude last year, it didn’t seem like that account would be cleared anytime soon.

Then a report appeared in The Times this afternoon, claiming that Arsenal’s third-choice centre-back Thomas Vermaelen has agreed a contract ‘in principle’ with the United hierarchy.

The Belgian has the experience and natural leadership that the Reds’ backline is craving in the wake of the departure of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, but is he really the most suitable choice?

Add in his decline in form, which – following an excellent couple of seasons after joining Arsenal five years ago – has led to the loss of his place in the team, and the way his confidence collapsed upon being handed the captaincy, and Vermaelen begins to look more of a can-buy than must-buy option.

However, that is what United are dealing with – lack of Champions League football means that they will not be able to attract certain players, especially not with Chelsea and Manchester City wages beckoning.

So what of the talk of trying to prise Robben away from Bayern Munich?

Oddly, considering the point made above, this one actually looks sort of feasible, if a little optimistic.

But the name of Van Gaal does have a pull around Europe, particularly with the Dutch: look at the way that Van Persie went from almost certain to leave Old Trafford to now being cited as next season’s captain.

It is well-known that Robben and Van Persie are good friends, and both are the type of players who expect to be and are capable of being the focal point of their team’s approach.

As seen since 2012 and culminating against Spain on Friday, Van Gaal can harness the ego and ability and turn it into something ruthlessly efficient – tactics that are a far cry from Moyes’ pessimism and will be appreciated at Old Trafford.

Of course there is the problem of displacing the already swollen forward ranks of the United squad, but that is where Van Gaal’s tunnel-vision can prove beneficial.

Two centre-halves, a left-back (Luke Shaw’s transfer pending), a back-up right-back, a box-to-box midfielder and a winger – it’s quite a shopping list, and that is what the reported £200 million is for.

In Vermaelen, if the deal goes through, United will have acquired an experienced defender, but only through his inability to force a way back into the Arsenal line-up.

It is completely different situation to top players being lured in by the prospect of playing for a better club than their current employers, and one that could lead to other aforementioned targets proving out-of-reach.

Never mind United fans, now you know how it feels to be Liverpool until last year, however much that may grate.

As least you know that in Van Gaal you have a tactically astute manager who will get the best out of Van Persie, albeit possibly at the expense of Wayne Rooney.

And while it may seem fanciful to imagine a United front-line that features Robben, Mata, Van Persie and whoever else, remember that in football reputation can often count for more than current standing – just ask Liverpool – and in Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal, you certainly have that.

Main image courtesy of Sport360 via YouTube, with thanks.

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