With Angel Di Maria’s sale and the impending exit of Victor Valdes, Louis Van Gaal’s man-management has once again been called into question. We explore the Dutch tactician’s track record and grade his managing of players while implementing his ‘Philosophy’.
Manchester United confirmed the sale of their record signing Angel Di Maria to Paris Saint-Germain last week in what was merely the final act of a transfer saga that began when United signed Di Maria in 2014. Despite Di Mariaa s fickleness and lack of perseverance, pundits and a expertsa were quick to paint Louis Van Gaala s willingness and indeed, readiness to permit Di Mariaa s exodus as a sign of his failure.
A lack of careful management was the reason, they claimed, for Di Mariaa s poor showing in his one year at Old Trafford. He was often played out of position, regularly dropped and even substituted after only 45 minutes. Di Mariaa s off-pitch problems including the break-in at his house unnerved him, and he wasn’t receiving enough support on the pitch either, according to Van Gaala s detractors. It was just another example of Van Gaala s long-questioned adeptness at man-management.
The excuses for Di Mariaa s poor performances on the pitch notwithstanding, Van Gaal does have a troubling history of player implosions. Zlatan Ibrahimovich, Rivaldo, Franck Ribery, Luca Toni and Marco Van Bommel have all fallen out with the Dutch tactician in the past with many claiming his dictatorial style resulted in dehumanizing and harrowing experiences for his players. In his latest demonstration of authority, Van Gaal has not only declared that Victor Valdes has no future at the club, he has also moved the Spanish Champions League Winnera s kit to the Under 21 locker room.
This harsh and unforgiving action, despite context, has shocked both observers outside Old Trafford and the squad within, especially with the younger Spanish Players who look up to a figure like Valdes with reverence. Here is a player that has won everything the game has to offer, a 3 time Champions League Winner and 5 time La Liga champion. And yet, he has found himself at the end of treatment that usually is applied for under-performing fringe team players. Earlier in the season, Robin Van Persie, Van Gaala s compatriot departed Manchester United, with pointed barbs aimed at Louis Van Gaal, on whom he clearly places blame for his exit.
Whilst all this makes for great copy and leads ever more fans to doubt any resurgence from Manchester United, there is an intriguing silence over at Old Trafford over any suggestions of squad unhappiness, both within the squad and the boardroom. And this in itself is unusual for Louis Van Gaal.
At Ajax, Van Gaal moulded and forged a brilliant, relentless machine, full of youthful energy and flair. Utilising his rival Johan Cryuffa s 3-4-3 formation, the 1994 Ajax team, hailed by many as Ajaxa s Golden Generation, swept aside all challengers, sweeping the Champions League and the Eredivisee in a 48 match unbeaten run. The crux of this legendary team were the predominantly young academy players at Van Gaala s disposal, including Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Ronald and Frank De Boer and Jari Litmanen.
Van Gaala s dedication to youthful and promising talents led the players to completely trust their managera s vision, implementing it successfully without flaws and exception. During his time as Ajax manager, player power and unhappiness was kept to a minimum, owing as much to his players youthful and impressionable age as well as the success that he brought on the field.
The bedrock of Van Gaal’s Philosophy is a simple one. It is based on unquestioning, fanatical, subservient devotion to the squad and the team. Individuals werena t indulged and the team philosophy (or Van Gaala s) was never compromised. Regardless of past performances, reputation or transfer fee, every player was as dispensable as the other in the eyes of the Iron Tulip. With the majority of Ajaxa s squad having been drafted from the academy, the sense of gratitude and awe owed to their manager would have kept revolts and tantrums down to a minimum. Players would have performed what was expected of them, or at the least, try. Questioning tactics and stratagem would have been a frightening prospect for most of these youngsters, leading Van Gaal to his ideal a dream teama – one that doesna t question the manager.
At his subsequent destinations, Van Gaal was confronted with a new, stranger phenomenoen; that of established stars, which required a different aspect of management. At Barcelona, he was constantly harried with questions about Rivaldo, whom many, including the player, felt was being played out of position as a left winger. Being a fan favourite, the press quickly took Rivaldoa s side, while also being irked by the Dutchman’s refusal to learn Catalan and his often arrogant demeanour towards the media.
In Van Gaala s second stint at Barcelona in 2002, one of his first acts was to release Rivaldo on a free transfer. Rivaldo, who went on to win the World Cup in 2002 while Van Gaal was managing Holland, couldna t wait to taunt his former manager. Rivaldo stated that a Van Gaal was jealous because I won a World Cup he couldna t even qualify fora . This aspect of many of Van Gaala s former charges lashing out at their former manager would continue at virtually every club he has managed.
At Bayern Munich in 2009, Van Gaala s inability to adapt to certain players was further revealed. Ribery, Luca Toni, Mark Van Bommel and Lucio famously fell out with the manager, leading Bayern to transfer all the affected players, barring Ribery. Luca Toni claimed that Van Gaal treated players as a Interchangeable objectsa and Lucio stated that a Van Gaal hurt me more than anyone else in Footballa . Lucio achieved a measure of peace by being a vital part of the Inter Milan squad under Jose Mourinho who would deny Van Gaala s Bayern Munich the Champions League trophy in 2010. In a tale more reminiscent of the recently departed Robin Van Persie, Mark Van Bommel was Van Gaala s captain and compatriot at the Allianz Arena. Yet, as his popularity, influence, and ultimately, power grew, Van Gaal made the shocking decision to transfer his once-indispensable captain to AC Milan on a free transfer.
Ultimately, this aspect of Van Gaala s management has brought his legacy into question. Nurturing and educating young talented footballers is a feat he has repeatedly and impressively managed. Throughout his long career, he has blooded and instructed many of the worlda s greatest players, including Seedorf, Xavi, Iniesta, Kluivert, Schweinsteiger, Muller and Robben. Xavi and Iniesta have repeatedly praised Van Gaal, who gave them their debut while Schweinsteiger has reunited with his former manager at Manchester United this summer.
It was at Bayern Munich that Van Gaal converted Schweinsteiger from a wide midfield player to a holding midfielder, a tactical decision that has led to great success for both Bayern and Germany. Thomas Muller has openly courted Manchester Uniteda s attentions during Van Gaala s tenure revealing in May 2015 that he had a a special relationshipa with the Dutch Manager. Van Gaala s influence and work with younger players has been further enhanced at Manchester United with the prestigious signing of 21-year old Memphis Depay, who has been lauded as one of Europea s most exciting youngsters. Depay, who had been courted by Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Liverpool, explicitly stated that it was Van Gaala s management that made him move to Old Trafford.
Even his current spat with Valdes is the ideal microcosm of Van Gaala s style of management. The former Barcelona keeper was handed his debut by Van Gaal in 2002, and upon signing for Manchester United in January, 2015, Valdes was quick to praise his manager as the a most important person in his careera . Fast-forward 6 months and the Spaniard is up for sale, unwanted and demonised by Van Gaal over his purported refusal to play in the reserves any longer.
Player power is just not a part of Van Gaala s Philosophy, regardless of the playera s history, accomplishments or talents. Luca Toni who was Bayerna s season top-scorer prior to Van Gaala s appointment could be cited as an example. So can Ribery and Rivaldo. Neither is shared nationality as Van Persie and Van Bommel can attest. All that matters in Louis Van Gaala s mind is that his team plays the way he tells them to play, and that they play for the common cause that he has devised. Squad players hungry for success, promising youngsters and accommodating stars is the mixture used. Van Gaal has no time for individualists, faded legends or the ill-disciplined. It is no wonder that the likes of Nani, Van Persie and Rafael have been jettisoned by United. Indulgence is just not one of Van Gaala s virtues.
His first season in charge of Englanda s biggest club was one of limited success. Despite appalling results in the League Cup and the opening ten games, United huffed, puffed and ultimately limped into fourth place ahead of Liverpool and Tottenham. They had a decent run in the FA cup and secured some important, morale boosting results with a double over Liverpool and a first win over Manchester City at Old Trafford in 3 years. Over the course of the past year, youngsters like Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett featured fairly regularly for United, getting them much-needed exposure before loftier goals were identified. The cluba s priority last season was to recover from the nadir of the David Moyes season and re-enter Europea s elite cup competition. With entry to the Champions League only contingent on a two-legged tie with Club Brugge, the task this season for Van Gaal is to construct Manchester United into title contenders once again.
Throughout his long and storied career, Van Gaal has had success with every club he has managed. He led Ajax to 3 Eredivisie titles as well as the Champions League. He accumulated two La Liga trophies along with the Copa Del Rey in 3 years at Barcelona. Van Gaal also led AZ Alkmaar to the Eredivisie league title in 2009, becoming the first team other than PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord to capture the Dutch League title in 28 years. At Munich, he collected a Bundesliga winners medal as well as the DFB-Pokal Cup, thus securing a domestic double. Even his first dismal spell with the Dutch National Team was redeemed in 2014 where he led an unfancied Holland to an impressive third place.
The track record is the reason behind the restraint of criticism at Old Trafford. Though opposition fans are quick to point out Uniteda s deficiencies in attack and defence, not to mention the imminent loss of their world-class goalkeeper, the feeling prevalent at Old Trafford is one of quiet optimism. They may not start the season as favorites, and indeed, may not be title contenders come the business end of the season. However, there is belief in Van Gaal and that within his madness, there is a method behind it. The squad has been relieved of underperforming and underwhelming talent, young academy players have been prepared, club legend Wayne Rooney has been restored to his best position and the long-standing hole in the centre of the midfield has been intriguingly filled with Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin. This truly and wholly, now, is a Louis Van Gaal team. Di Maria and Victor Valdes were merely the latest casualties in its construction. And like Bayern Munich and Barcelona, Manchester United is, for the moment at least, content to believe in Louis Van Gaal’s a Philosophya .