The new Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal assumed immediate responsibility for the club’s transfer targets last night, but insisted that he would also “respect the culture” of the club as he sought to make history at Old Trafford.
The 62-year-old, whose No 2 will be Ryan Giggs, made it clear that discussion is centring around the players “I want” in the transfer market, rather than the £150m budget available. “We don’t talk about money,” he said. “We talk about the players I want. We’ll have to see if we can get them. We also talked about who can go.”
Van Gaal said he did not need a holiday after the World Cup campaign with the Netherlands and that he could combine both his club and international roles to put United immediately back into European competition.
In an appearance on Dutch television, he also insisted that he and Sir Alex Ferguson “like each other” and that he had spoken with Ferguson having been under consideration to replace him in 2002. “I’ll undoubtedly have a drink with Ferguson. We’ve done that before. We like each other.”
Van Gaal added that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, whom he appointed into his first coaching role at Barcelona, was the first person he texted having been appointed at Old Trafford. “And he was the first one to text me back. He said he was jealous of my list of clubs.”
Van Gaal said that he was determined to bring in young players as well as buy from outside. “United is the biggest club in the world. Marketing-wise, but also if you look at their budget, they have to finish high,” he said.
“The aim is to bring them back to the No 1 position as soon as possible, because that’s where they were under Sir Alex Ferguson.”
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There was an immediate acknowledgement from the top of United that the man to whom they are committing their destiny can be a challenging one. Van Gaal – the club’s first foreign manager – is “a larger than life character,” said chief executive Ed Woodward.
But Woodward spoke of an intellect and thoughtfulness he has discerned in him, whom he is understood to have appointed on the basis of three meetings at the Dutchman’s home in Noordwijk, after conversations which began 48 hours after the dismissal of David Moyes on 22 April.
Van Gaal also revealed his wife had wanted him to retire after leading the Dutch to the World Cup. “It was retirement, or going to England,” he said. “My wife Truus wanted me to retire. But now we’re going to England.”
Van Gaal’s full name – Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal – might imply a less than symbiotic relationship with Giggs, an adoptive son of Stretford who announced his own retirement from playing at 3pm yesterday, within an hour of United confirming Moyes’ successor. But one of the key components of the new manager’s modus operandi suggests that the two could reach a rapid accommodation. Van Gaal always retains a member of the establishment at his new clubs, entrusting him with finding who, from the existing youth ranks, might best be developed for the first team.
Giggs’ desire to see other members of the Class of ’92 with him in Van Gaal’s back-room team remained unfulfilled last night, with United yet to undertake talks with Phil Neville, Nicky Butt or Paul Scholes, about their own futures. Woodward has been committed throughout to retaining a strong link to the past while going in pursuit of a manager who will be expected to deliver United back to the top four next season. But all three, and especially Scholes, will want a meaningful role.
Van Gaal, who has a three-year contract, immediately proclaimed his determination to make history at Old Trafford. “This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions. Together I’m sure we will make history,” he said.
Van Gaal will supervise the spending of an estimated £150m – with Bayern Munich midfielder Toni Kroos and Borussia Dortmund centre-half Mats Hummels possible targets, as well as Southampton’s Luke Shaw, for whom United are likely to raise an initial £27m bid.
His penchant for players without big egos, willing to submit themselves to his team ethic and 4-3-3 style, make Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller, whom the Dutchman was the first to coach at a senior level, another possible.
Van Gaal, who will not be presented as United’s new manager until a press conference preceding the club’s pre-season tour of the United States in July, has brought compatriots Frans Hoek and Marcel Bout with him as goalkeeping coach and assistant coach, specialising in opposition scouting. The departure of current goalkeeping coach Chris Woods is imminent.
One possible cloud on the horizon was there was no Twitter message celebrating the new manager’s arrival from Wayne Rooney, as there had been after that of Moyes, who had been ready to appoint him as captain next season.
New broom: The tasks facing Van Gaal at Old Trafford
He likes a captain he can “click with” and Robin van Persie looks in pole position after a rich tribute paid to his leadership skills on Saturday. Turning to someone with only one season of genuine United accomplishments rather than Wayne Rooney, an Old Trafford talisman, seems questionable. But Van Gaal will not be influenced by public opinion.
Return to Champions League
Failure to do so would be catastrophic for United, who will characterise the 2014-15 season outside of continental football as an exceptional one-off. There will be heavy spending – possibly more than £150m this summer – as the club seek to return to Europe, although Arsenal’s weekend undertaking to back Arsène Wenger reveals the size of the competition.
Coach team in his 4-3-3 style
“You have to play as a team and not as individuals,” was how Van Gaal defined it recently. “That’s why I’m always looking for the vision, then the team, and then which players fit in my system, a 1-4-3-3, because I’m always playing that. If a young player can do it, I select him. If it’s an older player, it doesn’t bother me. Age is not important.”
Harness talent Fergie saw
United accept that to bring in more than six players would destabilise the squad. So as well as developing the next generation of players, Van Gaal will need to bring out the potential in Ferguson era players who have not shone so much lately such as Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa and others.