Louis van Gaal has emerged as the front-runner for the United job, due to his availability after the World Cup and his desire to manage in the Premier League. In a recent interview with the BBC, he admitted that he would love the job. As a United fan, I’m pretty stoked about his appointment because he has a resume glittered with success in several European countries. Here’s a list of his accomplishments and some of the pros and cons.
Louis van Gaal really made a name for himself at Ajax as he brought through some of the most famous Dutch players of the 90s and early 2000s in Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert, Frank de Boer, Edgar Davids, and Edwin van der Sar to name a few. An unbeaten season in the Dutch league and back to back Champions League final appearances in ’95 and ’96 (W1, D1 lost on penalties though), cemented his status as one of the best European managers around.
He then moved on to Barcelona in the late 1990s and kept up the total football vision with the litany of stars and the introduction of academy players. His time at Barca was pretty contentious with the media however, and he had a couple of high profile falling outs despite winning two league titles and a Copa del Rey.
After an unsuccessful first spell with the Netherlands and a worse second spell at Barca, LVG stayed out of the limelight until he got a job at AZ Alkmaar, a mediocre side in the Dutch league. He turned things around and won the league twice before moving to Bayern in 2009.
Prior to his arrival at Bayern, the situation was a total mess. Player power was rampant and there was drama everywhere. Holy shit was there drama. Louis van Gaal came in and within a few months turned the tide and brought Bayern to a near-treble after winning the Bundesliga and the German cup comfortably, but losing the Champions League final in 2010. Through a combination of youth players and a slight change in tactics, LVG found a way to win. Unfortunately, the next year disappointed and he was sacked despite finishing third and qualifying for the Champions League.
Louis van Gaal has been a big proponent of Total football, which is a fluid attacking style of play with many different points of attack and positional interchange. He has generally promoted young players and will usually bring one or two as he looks to build a side that evolves over the course of the season. His sides typically become much more dangerous in the second half of the season.
His formations usually vary given his personnel. At Barcelona he had a high-pressing 4-3-3, at Ajax he used a 3-3-1-3, and at Bayern he used a 4-2-3-1 /4-4-2. Ultimately, his teams attack well but leave themselves open at the back. At United he would likely ditch the standard 4-4-2 and opt for a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 depending on the players he brings in.
If I haven’t said this before, Louis likes his teams to attack, and he does give young players a chance. His Ajax team was comprised mostly of academy products, he gave senior debuts to Xavi and Carles Puyol at Barca, and at Bayern he gave Thomas Muller, Holger Badstuber, and David Alaba a chance and they all took it. Badstuber has been plagued with injuries but Alaba and Muller are still going strong. In addition to giving young players a chance, he has shown he’s unafraid to change players’ positions to suit his philosophy and tactics. Most notably at Bayern, he converted Bastian Schweinsteiger into a holding midfielder after he had started his career as a winger. He also understands the need for continuity so he likes to keep one member of the previous coaching staff. In United’s case, there’s a lot of pressure to keep Ryan Giggs on.
Louis van Gaal is able to reach his goals because he is a total hardass. He demands instant respect and the utmost professionalism from his players, much like Sir Alex Ferguson used to demand. This can be both a strength and a weakness however. Because of his philosophy, he demands that his players continue to learn and grow and after a year or two that can grow wearisome. He doesn’t have a lot of patience for the press either. Despite some of these setbacks, this might suit Manchester United because at age 62, he probably doesn’t plan on staying any longer than 3 seasons.
Ultimately, I expect van Gaal to be successful because this will be a short run appointment. He has the ego to handle the pressure at United and he will get the team to play with the traditional swagger that’s been sorely lacking this year. He has more in common with Fergie than David Moyes did and in that sense, he’ll get more out of the players new and old. Total football at United is an exciting prospect and it’s nothing less than what the fans deserve after this miserable season to forget.