Belfast Telegraph

We're all United at Old Trafford: Louis van Gaal

By Ian Herbert

There were elements of the absurd in Louis van Gaal's press conference. Like the moment he raised his arms and his voice to mimic what the Old Trafford supporters sing about him, by way of demonstrating that they, like the players, are "satisfied" with his ways.

"The fans are shouting each week 'Louis van Gaal's army, Louis van Gaal's army,'" he chanted. It was a startling moment because it came from nowhere.

But for all that, it was a rather fine performance as these things go. Your heart sinks at the thought of how it would have been putting to David Moyes, Van Gaal's predecessor, the information about training-ground tensions which have surfaced this week. Sir Alex Ferguson would have considered it an open declaration of war.

Van Gaal's Old Trafford staff will tell you that he can be just as democratic as he professes to be.

But the problem for those players who hope to see greater emphasis on individualism and the pure fun of playing football in his training sessions is that such a shift does not conform with his football creed.

Van Gaal, still the schoolteacher he once was, believes in drilling the technical aspects of the game until they are second nature.

He loves stable, reliable players, not intuitive ones. If Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are not technically up to the mark in his eyes then they will make 700 defensive passes a week at Carrington until he is satisfied.

Van Gaal said in his first extensive interview as United manager, in a Washington DC hotel 14 months ago, that football would be "not the same as before" for these players.

Your eyes watered.

At Bayern Munich, Van Gaal loved Arjen Robben and the feeling was mutual because Robben was technically stable and his manager was happy for him to be self-expressive.

But in an echo of the complaints now emanating from Carrington, Bayern's Luca Toni complained that he was being made to feel like a robot. Franck Ribery detested Van Gaal for the same reasons.

You imagine the United manager was telling it truthfully yesterday when he said Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick had said no more to him in their heart-to-heart than "the dressing room was flat". You can imagine them flinching.

The man whose door they knocked on had hoped to sign more players of the calibre of Robben - Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels - but has not found United quite the draw he thought it would be.

So he has settled for a more stable defensive core, signing two new defensive midfielders in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, hoping the defenders will improve in time and the goals will come from somewhere.

He seemed to be saying yesterday that a lack of adequately talented players had been a problem.

"It's not only the flat atmosphere," he said yesterday. "I have analysed that as part of the transfer window."

If only they were all like Rooney. Van Gaal really does rate the captain in the way he says he does: right up there in the Robben class of stable, multi-functional players.

For all his talk yesterday of giving players input to game plans, be sure that the 64-year-old manager's steepling self-belief will not see him change philosophy.

What Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano has said of him may come to pass.

"He is very tough. People don't like him, but he wins," Soriano said last year. "And one day you don't win - and when you don't win, everybody that is angry with you will try to kill you.

"In the movies this works, in real life it doesn't… People think a good leader is someone with character. I say a good leader is someone who can listen to the team, understand the kind of leadership a team needs and apply it."

But goalkeeper David de Gea's £200,000-a-week four-year deal and the manager's robust defence of himself felt like a shoring-up of United.

There was also some truth in his parting words.

"It is also a little bit logical now because there are only nine players left from the group and the rest I have bought so they shall not say I am a lousy manager," Van Gaal said, with a smile.

Results will dictate which way this road leads.

Belfast Telegraph


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