Belfast Telegraph

Majority of Manchester United stars won't mourn Louis Van Gaal departure

By Mark Ogden

Louis van Gaal's two-year reign at Manchester United has come to an end after the Dutchman lost the respect of the dressing room with eccentric management that extended to brutal video dissection of players' performances, critical emails to squad members and the imposition of 'straitjacket' football.

Senior players have also grown exasperated by the 'special treatment' afforded to Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has made just four appearances since suffering a knee injury against Sheffield United in the FA Cup in January.

Van Gaal, who led United to Cup glory with Saturday's 2-1 Wembley victory against Crystal Palace, is set to be replaced by Jose Mourinho after failing to secure Champions League qualification this season.

But such has been the breakdown of the relationship between Van Gaal and his players, the 64-year-old is unlikely to have survived in charge for the final year of his three-year contract - even if a top four finish had been achieved.

From the first week of Van Gaal's spell in charge, when he succeeded the sacked David Moyes after guiding Holland to the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup, United's senior players have struggled to adapt to the rigid demands imposed by the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach.

Having inherited United's summer tour of America from Moyes, Van Gaal was so angered by the arrangements in place - the Beverly Hills location of the team's Los Angeles hotel in relation to the training camp and venue for the game against LA Galaxy - that a budget Holiday Inn was hired for the players to sleep close to the training ground in between morning and afternoon sessions.

One source claims that Van Gaal's strict regime of 'training at 8.30, sent to rooms for a couple of hours' rest, training after lunch, back for video meetings and tactics discussion, back to rooms, supper of toast and then bed at half 10 - every day for 14 days' left the squad shattered and ill-prepared for the start of the 2013-14 season, which saw United endure their worst opening to a campaign for 25 years.

But it has been Van Gaal's refusal to alter his heavy-handed management style that has led to his inability to foster unity behind his methods.

Under Moyes and Sir Alex Ferguson, the first-team would regularly be given a day off on a Monday following a Sunday game, but Van Gaal has insisted on his players reporting for training on Mondays, when they would sit through a video replay of the previous game.

But such was the critical nature of the analysis - 'he would crucify players in front of each other,' according to one source - that captain Wayne Rooney and vice-captain Michael Carrick sought out Van Gaal to urge him to soften his approach.

Van Gaal accepted the advice and acted upon it by instead sending emails to players with clips and notes attached.

The majority of the players would not open the emails, however, knowing that inside lay a raft of criticisms, prompting a tracker to be attached to reveal when the emails had been opened.

The players have since begun to open the files on their phones, ignoring the contents, but ensuring that the email shows up as having been read.

Van Gaal's prescriptive approach to the game has also alienated his players, with one senior figure confirming his instruction not to shoot at goal with their first touch.

Players regard Van Gaal's football as too slow and methodical and the strikers have grown exasperated by seeing so little of the ball.

When Rooney was dropped for the game at Stoke City on Boxing Day, the United and England captain accepted his demotion, but only after making it clear to Van Gaal that he wanted to play his natural game when he returned.

Van Gaal, who has earned admiration in the boardroom for promoting youngsters such as Marcus Rashford, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and FA Cup match-winner Jesse Lingard, is also regarded within the dressing room as having failed to control different personalities.

Van Gaal is blamed by some players for allowing Schweinsteiger to 'take the p***' since his injury, with the former Bayern Munich midfielder's regular absence from the club in between games becoming a source of annoyance to many.

And Memphis Depay, the £25m summer signing who was dropped from the FA Cup final squad, is regarded as being allowed to waste his talent.

The Dutch winger was dropped to the reserves after making a mistake in the defeat at Stoke in December, but then surprised many by turning up at the second string game in a Rolls-Royce.

Despite being urged to leave the car at home by senior team-mate, Depay nonetheless continued.

And while Rashford is regarded as a huge positive of Van Gaal's spell in charge, the story of one player asking the club chef to cook him two hard-boiled eggs to take home as he did not know how to do it himself underlines the sense within the squad that too much is done for the younger players.

If Van Gaal's departure is followed by that of Ryan Giggs, there will be sadness at the loss of the Welshman, however, who has the backing of many senior players to become manager.

Giggs has impressed with his coaching and his tactical analysis of opponents. There is a belief within the squad that Giggs has kept his own counsel on Van Gaal's approach in order not to rock the boat, but he retains the respect and admiration of the players, many of whom feel that a major rebuilding job is required.

But that task will fall to Mourinho rather than Van Gaal and the majority of the squad the Dutchman leaves behind will not mourn his departure.

Belfast Telegraph


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