WASHINGTON: Louis Van Gaal has made his presence felt at Manchester United in a big way, less than a fortnight after wrapping up his Dutch Odyssey at the World Cup finals in Brazil.
The two weeks have been a sharp learning curve for not only United’s officials and players but also for the 62-year-old.
First, he did not like the Carrington training ground. Too much wind. Poor pitches. No CCTV-system for remote ‘spying’ on the players in training. Screens have been built, trees planted, two new pitches laid down (to match the Old Trafford turf) and cameras installed. The cost is an estimated £3.5m.
Then it was off on tour to the United States. Van Gaal was not happy here either. Too much travelling in both flying time and in hotel-to-stadium time on the ground. He understands the commercial agenda but was quick to tell the media that the club should review its priorities, saying: “This is a club that can be too big for its own good.”
United spared no expense, while in Los Angeles, for their tour-opening 7-0 win over Galaxy. The club based their 153-person delegation at the prestige Beverly Wilshire Hotel where the room price starts at $500 per night and which was sealed in Hollywood celluloid as the ‘stage’ for the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere film Pretty Woman.
But the bus ride to the StubHub Stadium took too long for Van Gaal. Hence he had the club book rooms at the nearby Holiday Inn for the players to relax inbetween morning and afternoon training sessions.
Happily, for all Van Gaal’s concerns about the club’s commercial agenda, United have concluded a world-record £750m, 10-year kit deal with Adidas kicking in next year.
He has laid down his demands to his players both off and on the pitch. Back in Manchester the players must take their meal breaks with reserve and academy players to foster ‘togetherness’ and break up the cliques which divided the dressingroom under short-lived predecessor David Moyes. All the players have also been instructed to speak only English among themselves.
On the pitch Van Gaal is working hard on the training ground to educate United in 3-4-1-2 system which will look revolutionary in a Premier League used for four-man or even five-man back lines. Jonny Evans, being two-footed, impressed in both the Galaxy game and then in a 3-2 win over Roma on Saturday night in Washington.
Best foot forward
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones may struggle, both being right-footed. Hence Van Gaal’s interest in a left-footed central defender such as Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen; United are also interested in Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummel.
The new tactical shape does provide room for Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney; the obvious aim is for the Spaniard to be the ‘one’ with Robin Van Persie and Rooney up ahead, a daunting prospect for Premier defenders in the year ahead.
One man not daunted by anything is Van Gaal himself. As he said on his ‘presentation’ to the media: “When you look at my career you can see what I have won. I cannot give predictions because in football you never know but I think I can live up to all the expectations of me.
“How soon we achieve success depends on how quickly the players pick up my philosophy.”
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