Comment: Family man Louis van Gaal CAN restore unity at Manchester United

Louis van Gaal may be known as a no-nonsense, autocratic football philosopher, but it is his ability to turn players into family members that Manchester United need most.

In Brazil the Dutchman managed to do what many thought impossible – stop a group of his compatriots descending into vicious World Cup infighting.

It was not a Dutch squad blessed with pure talent, Arjen Robben aside – as even Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder only sparkled intermittently. 

This was a group missing the gifts of a Johnny Rep, Dennis Bergkamp or Clarence Seedorf, never mind a Johan Cruyff.

But what they lacked in quality they made up for with greater unity and teamwork than most Dutch teams of the past.

Similarly, the United side that Van Gaal is now in charge of compares unfavourably with the great teams of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson.

For the new manager, that means imposing a new philosophy to take United away from the ‘cross, cross and cross again’ days of David Moyes.

But it also means encouraging a relaxed atmosphere at the club, knitting the players and staff together after the divisive Moyes era.

Moyes presided over the kind of family that one might find in The Sopranos – acidic, tense and with several factions struggling for control.

That in-fighting was laid plain during United’s 2-0 defeat in Olympiakos, when Moyes was heckled by an unknown substitute while remonstrating with the fourth official.

If Van Gaal was still the rigid ‘my way or the highway’ fundamentalist who nearly took Barcelona to relegation in 2002-03, then matters would surely only get worse.

But he demonstrated greater flexibility – both in terms of tactics and his attitudes towards his players – at Bayern Munich and then as Dutch coach.

His formal installation at Old Trafford this week, stage-managed and soundbite-focused as it was, gave more promising signs for United fans.

Van Gaal’s conception of United as a ‘family’ started with his tribute to club legend Sir Bobby Charlton.

He said: “I was a fan of [Sir Bobby], and I am old enough to have seen him play for United so it was an honour for me to speak to him and make my first steps with him at the Theatre of Dreams.”

Van Gaal went on to reveal how impressed he was by the size of United – not only as a mammoth commercial operation with 40 worldwide sponsors, but as a very extended family.

“It’s unbelievable how many people are working for the same goal,” he said.

“It’s also a family, everybody’s proud to work for United. That’s the feeling I have and it’s fantastic.”

He wanted greater ‘intimacy’ in the training facilities and also stressed the importance of the supporters being ‘happy’ with the team’s style of play.

And if United are a family, the favourite children are the Class of 92 – the newly-retired Ryan Giggs is of course staying on as Van Gaal’s assistant.

Van Gaal said: “I cannot come to England to authorise the Dutch culture here. But I want to know the culture, [Giggs] can teach me that and he knows the best players, the talented boys in the youth system, he can help me a lot.”

The Dutchman also said that he would like to find roles for Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes on his staff.

It is a far cry from the deposing of Ferguson’s staff at the start of Moyes’ regime, which left a bitter taste in the mouth and was a sign of things to come last season.

Van Gaal’s entrance feels very different – there is substance to back up the hope for success.

To obtain that success and regain fans’ confidence, though, Van Gaal will need to build on these positive first impressions.

His tactical acumen and voice of authority will obviously be assets, but so too will the fatherliness that inspired the Netherlands far beyond expectations this summer.

Image courtesy of Fox Sports, via Youtube, with thanks

Related Articles