After guiding the Netherlands to third-place at the World Cup, Louis van Gaal had no time to rest as he began work as manager of Manchester United on Wednesday before being unveiled to the press just 24 hours later. The new Red Devils coach spoke to the media for the first time since arriving at Old Trafford and outlined his plans for ‘the biggest club in the world’…
He began, though, by thanking club director Sir Bobby Charlton for welcoming him to the club…
“I would like to thank Sir Bobby Charlton because it is a great honour to come in this stadium and to be guided by Sir Bobby Charlton in my first steps as a coach of Manchester United. I was very proud to have met with Sir Bobby Charlton. I have the age to see him play so I know what he means to Manchester United and also to English football. It was a great honour to do that with him.”
How big an impact do you hope to make in your first season with Manchester United?
“I will do my utmost and that’s what I can give. I cannot give predictions because you never know. It’s the biggest club in the world. Within two days I know already how important Manchester United is and how important the sponsors are. I have to work, I have to prepare a team and I have to adapt to this big club. It will not be easy but I will do my best. When you see my career you can see what I have won. The future will show if I can do that again.”
You say this is the biggest club in the world, and if so what do you expect to achieve in your time here?
“It is the biggest club because of how much it is known worldwide but in sport you are never the biggest club. In every season you have to prove and last season you were seventh so were not the biggest club. When I was win China and then in Brazil, people are talking about Manchester United, even when I was the coach of the Dutch team. That’s the difference. There’s a lot of expectation but it’s also a great challenge because of that. Therefore I have chosen to come to this club. I have worked for Barcelona who are, in my opinion, number one in Spain. I have coach Ajax, who are number one in Netherlands and I have coached Bayern Munich who are number one in Germany. Now I am at Manchester United – the number one in England. I hope I shall fulfil the expectation but it will be difficult.”
How many more signings do you think you need to improve this squad?
“My method is always the same. I want to look at the players now. Of course I know how the players play, but I don’t know the players who I haven’t trained and coached. I want to see in the first four weeks what they can do, then maybe I shall buy other players. The players we have bought now –[Luke] Shaw and [Ander] Herrera – were already on the list and I gave my approval because I like them. First I want the players performing my philosophy.”
How realistic is it for United fans to feel they can be challenging for the title under you this season, or do they have to be more realistic?
“That is always the question and that is what I have explained already.”
Do you need any assurances as to how long you need to get back to winning ways?
“No, because the owners and the CEO have a lot of confidence in me and because of that they have come to me. I explained my philosophy and they were excited. We will have to wait and see if I can fulfil their expectation of these people and also the supporters. You cannot predict in the world of football. Nobody predicted the Dutch team would come so far. No one would predict Germany would beat Brazil in their home country 7-1 or the Dutch would beat them 3-0.”
When will you make a decision on the captaincy?
“All the players are possible candidates. I have to get to know them and I will use four to six weeks to see. The captain’s role is very important and therefore I need time. Sometimes I didn’t have the time and then I had to make quick decisions. But quick decisions are not always good so I will use my time for it. I think the captain of a team is very important.”
At former clubs you’ve had the same brand of football throughout the club at all ages. Is that something you want to introduce to Manchester United?
The owners and the CEO, Ed Woodward, have asked for me to give advice but the main project is the first team, and that is more short term than the youth education. More or less the first two years I need to separate them. I need all my knowledge to transfer my philosophy in this selection and you have to give me time to do that.
Have you decided the futures of Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes?
“Nicky Butt is already assisting us. For Scholes we will find a role for him and also Phil Neville. That’s what we want but it must be possible. We will have to adapt to the qualities of these people. It’s not an easy job and we will need to speak to them personally.”
Did you consider taking a holiday between the World Cup and coming here?
“It’s not allowed. Of course it was better that I did a half year sabbatical and come in January but I could not let them go when you have been asked by the biggest club in the world. That is a big challenge and a big ambition for me. I have already coached the biggest in Spain, Netherlands and Germany. Now that’s four competitions that are the strongest in the world. The Dutch journalist is laughing now because he writes the Dutch competition is nothing, but we have proved him wrong tactically in Brazil. When there is a chance like this I will never let it go. This is a holiday for me.”
Can you describe your style of management?
“I’m democratic and I am an empathetic human being. I have a strong personality but the other characteristics are more important. That’s the key of my personality.”
What would be success for you in your first season?
“I don’t know. I have to see how the players perform my philosophy and how quick they can pick it up. Then I can answer but I haven’t worked with most of them. It is very important there is a click between the players.”
How would you compare the Premier League with La Liga and Bundesliga?
“I have never worked in the Premier League so it is a big challenge. I have worked in the Spanish league and German league and when I was at Barcelona I think the Spanish league was the best. In my time in Germany it was the best league and maybe now I work here the Premier League will be the best league.”
You have a reputation for being autocratic. Is that unfair?
“It’s unfair because the media want to show that part of the personality, but that part is small. When you repeat it everybody thinks it. I’m always the same person. From 39 I was head coach of Ajax. Since then the personality has not changed. Autocratic or strong personality is not the same. Lots of people think it is the same. I have a strong personality and every year I have managed that has confirmed that philosophy. Sir Alex [Ferguson] has a strong philosophy and he was confirming that because he won a lot of titles. I hope I can do that.”
Have you had a chance to speak to Sir Alex and are you daunted about following a man who had such success here?
“Of course. He called me to congratulate me and we have spoken over a cup of coffee and something to eat. We were always invited to the elite panel with Uefa and we always had a glass of wine together. We know each other very well and I will drink coffee and wine with him.”
What’s excited you most about this job?
“It’s difficult to describe because I have been here for two days and I have met a lot of people. It’s a big family and they expect a lot of me and are excited to meet me. Can I fulfil that expectation? I think I can, but because of the greatness of this club it’s much more difficult. This club is guided in the commercial way and we have to fulfil that. That is not always possible. That is my big challenge after two days but maybe that will change after the United States tour.”
How big a role do the experienced players such as Wayne Rooney have to play in the team going forward?
“You have to know that I’m not always convinced of the experience of players. I have said a lot in the media that a boy like Clarence Seedorf at 16 years old made his debut at Ajax under me. At 16 he was sometimes more experienced than someone at 30. It is about the personality. Michael Carrick was injured in the last two days and that is a big blow because he is an experienced player. It is important we have experience, but not only in age and football, but also as a human being. My philosophy is total, and in that there are not many experienced players.”