MANCHESTER: Louis Van Gaal’s first words on signing a three-year contract to take up the conductor’s baton at Manchester United after the World Cup were entirely in character.
The 62-year-old former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern coach has never been short of self-confidence. Hence his belief that he can “make history” at a club which already knows a great deal about the subject after 62 national and international titles.
Ryan Giggs, who stepped in as interim manager for four games after the abrupt end to David Moyes’s 10-month reign, has retired from playing and will be an assistant. That decision demonstrated more commonsense than Moyes’s decision to snub continuity by replacing the entire coaching staff.
Van Gaal’s pedigree is unquestioned. He has won seven league titles in Holland, Spain and Germany plus various other titles and trophies. He will need to draw on all that club experience if Holland reach the World Cup Final in Rio de Janeiro on July 13; that will leave him only a matter of days before United fly to the United States for a pre-season tour.
Not that he is intimidated by the prospect. Where Moyes always appeared in awe of the challenge, Van Gaal said: “To work as a manager for Manchester United, the biggest club in the world, makes me very proud.
“I have managed in games at Old Trafford before and know what an incredible arena Old Trafford is and how passionate and knowledgeable the fans are. This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions. Together I’m sure we will make history.”
On Dutch television he added: “The aim is to bring them [United] back to the No1 position as soon as possible because that’s where they were under Sir Alex Ferguson. United is the biggest club in the world — marketing wise, but also if you look at their budget. They have to finish high.”
Van Gaal’s wife, Truus, tried in vain to persuade him to retire. He also revealed that the first person in football he contacted after confirmation was Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho who was his assistant at Barcelona in the late 1990s.
“Mourinho was the first one I texted and he was the first one to text me back,” said Van Gaal said. “He said he was jealous of my list of clubs.”
As for the coaching staff Giggs will be joined by Frans Hoek and Marcel Bout from Van Gaal’s Holland staff. United want to keep Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes but this may be a continuity step too far for Van Gaal.
Wayne Rooney said it was “great to see Louis Van Gaal named [as] manager” though he may not be so happy if Van Gaal appoints Robin Van Persie as captain in succession to Inter-bound Nemanja Vidic; Rooney had been promised the armband by Moyes.
Van Gaal will not worry about whether United’s players are happy or unhappy with him. All that matters is whether they meet his demands. A more teasing issue is who will be brought in, and at what price, to serve the purpose of regaining the Premier League title from neighbours Manchester City.
Van Gaal has already discussed targets with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. These include at least four Bundesliga players in Bayern’s Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller as well as Dortmund’s Mats Hummels and Marco Reus.
The Glazer family, United’s American owners, have allocated between £150m and £200m to rebuild a squad which collapsed to seventh place this past season and hence out of all European competition. In effect, Van Gaal has been told not to consider the money, only the players.
Inevitably there will be a clear-out. Alexander Büttner, Nani, Ashley Young, ‘Chicharito’ Hernández and Shinji Kagawa may wonder where they will be playing on September 1. Uncertainty also exists over the future of Patrice Evra and and even Moyes’s high-cost acquisitions Marouane Fellaini (£27.5m) and Juan Mata (£37.1m).
David De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Danny Welbeck represent a foundation for the future. But Van Gaal has no time to lose in ‘discovering’ the Premier League. Absence from the Champions League will cost United some £35m but will provide Van Gaal with extra time which he must use wisely and quickly on the training pitch.