Millennium Post

Red hot chilli peppers

I never wanted Manchester United to be second to anybody,” Sir Matt Busby. 

On 22 April 2014, Manchester United announced that they had sacked David Moyes. Sacked is a kind word because Moyes was in charge of United for only 10 months, the third shortest managerial stint in United history. At the time of his sacking, United were 7th in the Premier League table, 13 points behind 4th-placed Arsenal with four matches remaining, ensuring United would fail to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 1995 and finish outside of the top three for the first time in 
Premier League history. 

The man called to do the firefighting was Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal, better known as Louis van GaalIt is an open secret amongst footballing pundits that the current breed of absolutist managers is a dying breed. Now that Alex Ferguson has retired and Arsene Wenger well in the twilight of his career it is a safe bet to say that managers who serve a lifetime with a club will soon be a rarity. Not even the “special one” Jose Mourinho has lasted for more than three years at a club. Given that football managers will no longer serve at one place for long, success in the short run matters more than plebeian tasks like building a team, nurturing young players and creating stable superstructures for a club to build on. Given that this is the context in which most footballing managers operate in it’s not surprising that Louis Van Gaal is an impatient man. In his quest to manage the uphill task of repairing a broken squad which he inherited from David Moyes and reinstating Manchester United to Premier League glory, Van Gaal has moved heaven and earth.

It is safe to say that Louis van Gaal is one of the most successful coaches of his generation. The Dutchman won two European club competitions, including the UEFA Champions League, at the head of the strongest Ajax squad since the glory days of the 1970s.

During his tenure in Amsterdam, Van Gaal presided over the development of Patrick Kluivert, the De Boer brothers, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Nwankwo Kanu, Edwin van der Sar, Marc Overmars and Jari Litmanen. Every single one of these players left a mark on the modern day football game. Van Gaal then headed abroad and won La Liga in 1998 and 1999 with Barcelona. His most recent conquest was coaching the Netherlands football team to the World Cup Semi Finals in Brazil. But all of this was before he became the manager of Manchester United.

For the uninitiated Manchester United is unarguably the most popular football club in the world. Even the most ardent opponent of Manchester United would acknowledge that the club has fans right around the world. But the statement that it has a global following of 659 million adults – out of a total five billion adults in the world – is still quite staggering for anyone to digest.

This is not just a number picked out of thin air, though. Manchester United used a market research 
company, Kantar, to carry out a worldwide survey.

Of the 659 million figure, Kantar says roughly half (325 million) live in the Asia Pacific region, 173 million in the Middle East and Africa, 90 million in Europe and 71 million in the Americas. Given the unprecedented reach and fan following of the club it is safe to say that anyone who is helming the affairs of the club sits on the hottest seat in the stadium every single time a game takes place. That man in the hot seat is Louis Van Gaal.

When Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville went to interview Van Gaal for The Telegraph, he met an “imposing figure” who provides the “reassurance” that he – and only he – is in charge of the situation.

Most agree it was precisely what was needed after inheriting what former United defender Rio Ferdinand referred to as a “broken squad” from David Moyes. There has been relief and satisfaction that Van Gaal has restored United to the Champions League. To say that the Dutchman is a complicated character who seemingly straddles the fine line between brilliant and bizarre. 

Occasionally he has drifted into territory on the wrong side of that thin red line.

Take the famous meltdown Van Gaal had during his stint at Camp Nou. Barcelona’s training sessions were still open during Van Gaal’s time with the club, but far from trying to hide any dirty laundry from the public eye, the Dutchman seemed to have no regard at all for secrecy. Perhaps the most famous instance of that came during a period when Barcelona were top of La Liga in 1999. Despite their strong progress in the league, Van Gaal was left outraged when his team lost 4-3 in the Copa Catalunya, essentially a friendly tournament. Unhappy with the lack of intensity shown by his players, he went on to pick three in particular apart.

First was Albert Celades, a young midfielder at the time. Not content with humiliating Celades, Van Gaal then moved on to Roger Garcia, another academy graduate, telling him, “You have demonstrated absolutely nothing. Not even with Barcelona B!”. Considering Roger had played around 50 games for the first team by that stage, having stopped playing for Barcelona B four years prior, it seemed a particularly harsh criticism.

In an attempt to defend his brother, (now Brighton manager) Oscar Garcia intervened. Van Gaal reprimanded him for his troubles, shouting, “You don’t want to come back, you can leave! You can leave!” in his face, before expelling both brothers from training. Unsurprisingly, both Garcia brothers left Barcelona the following summer.

Fourteen odd years later not much has changed. One does not assume that Angel Di Maria would have received the sharp end of the stick but he left nevertheless. It must be noted that it was Van Gaal who actively sought the acquisition of Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid for a British transfer record . Di Maria has now signed for Paris St. Germain after reportedly failing to adapt to the manager’s methods. Radamel Falcao, or El Tigre as he was referred to during his heydays, arrived for an exorbitant loan fee and departed having scored only four goals in all competitions. 

El tigre came as a tiger and left as a whimpering cat.With the popular Rafael disposed off with, now 
it’s the drama surrounding David de Gea that’s attracting attention. De Gea sat sullen faced along with another Van Gaal reject Victor Valdes and watched on as Sergio Romero started against Tottenham.

There is a reason why Van Gaal has been allowed such a long leash. Van Gaal represents the anti-Moyes, not so much continuity or longevity, but a gold-standard track record and a sense of playing once again with the big boys.

It is worth noting that Van Gaal has won just two leagues and the German Cup in the last 15 years. And since arriving at United apart from reinstating them to the Champions League Van Gaal has not done much of note. Time is running out and the hot seat at Old Trafford is getting hotter. Saturday’s unconvincing win against Tottenham Hotspur notwithstanding
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