It took a little longer than expected by Manchester United have announced the signing of their new manager Louis Van Gaal. Van Gaal will take charge after the World Cup on a three year deal and has quite the challenge ahead of him.
The man himself
Van Gaal himself divides opinion. The 61 year old has been a success wherever he has gone. Winner of the Champions League, UEFA cup, World Club Cup at Ajax and the UEFA Super cup at Barcelona. In domestic leagues he has won the title/s at Barcelona, AZ, Ajax and Bayern Munich.
His qualities appeal. A tactical master he believes in working with youngsters suited to Man Utds system. Never afraid to play a player because they are too young the immediate thought is the impact he could have with Adnan Januzaj first team chances. Utd's only real bright spark last season hopefully will get runs of 3 or 4 games rather than the stop start teachings unders David Moyes. His preference is for players who create and whose passing skills are to a high standard something short within the current Utd squad as we know it but very much the type of players we wish to see playing week in week out.
In terms of the immediate first team there is plenty of doubt how Utd will start. Obviously the summer signings will impact but the main question is regarding the highest paid player and focal point of the brand Wayne Rooney. Van Gaal favours the traditional dutch 433 system designed for attacking football. Assuming the clubs best forward Robin Van Persie takes the centre position where does Wayne play? Lacking the pace and dribbling ability to play wide when played there by Fergie we saw the result, dropped to the bench. Juan Mata as well also suits a central role. Could one of them find themselves transformed into a midfield role as one of the three? So attack minded is his system of the three only one of the trio would normally be defensive giving the idea legs.
Alternatively if you review the Holland friendly over the weekend he has changed the system to a 352. The theory was that they needed to give Robin Van Persie and Arren Robin as much space as possible being their two main attacking weapons. This system would be even more problematic with the current squad. Wing backs are notoriously hard to produce and to make the system effective need to be world class players. A faded Patrice Evra and raw Rafael would be exposable in such a system when teams double team with their wide midfield player and full back. The three centre backs also need to be outstanding and the club doesn't have one let alone three at this point.
What ever the system LVG has proven to be flexible and we can hope to see progress in team philosophy and performance as the season develops. A return to attack minded football would be a joy.
Now the negative. LVG is known for his inability to get on with the media. Before even being appointed there were spiky replies to the English questioning the possibility of managing utd. He is also a my way or the highway type of guy. Van Gaal expects all areas to follow his lead and has fallen out with players during his various roles. These tendencies are fine when the team is playing well and of course getting the results. Failure to do so and his outbursts could get turned against him in what will be entering press conferences.
His right hand man
The club have also appointed Ryan Giggs as Assistant Manager in a move to both balance the current and look to the future. Giggs is still very raw for a manager. There is a huge difference to being a man of influence as he has been for a number of years and being a Manager. He will have learnt plenty under Sir Alex Ferguson sure, but this was under the guise of a player. Now he will be exposed to the other side of the game and there will be few experienced successful teachers better than Van Gaal. The role should also take a slight piece of pressure off Van Gaal early as the fans still have "United blood" in the management system (there will be a post from me on the career of Ryan Giggs in the next few days). Remember as shocking as it is in the modern game this is Manchester United's first ever foreign manager.
Immediate issue - the transfer window
Van Gaal's first issue will be to test the skill set of his Chief Exclusive who has employed him. Edward Woodward seems to have survived the Moyes era with less criticism than I would have thought. However it is this summers window where he can prove himself. Van Gaal is opinionated and very strong willed. He will not be accepting of the club failing with their transfer targets. The mess that was last summer, Cesc Fabregas to Arturo Vidal to Thiago to ummmm well ok Marouane Fellaini would cause a greater reaction than we saw for Mr Moyes. Woodward then by required means will be tasked with attacking a suitable quality of player using the now common join our project stance, the brand of Manchester United and of course a big bag of money. Players will still want to play for Utd and many will be willing to accept a season without Champions League in particular if they are the right age. Not all will though but unfortunately or fortunately if you are a Utd fan the club have the wages to tempt. Further as they are not failing the financial fair play rules, certain agents may be more willing to build relationships with the club with the possibility of certain other clubs being placed under restrictions in coming windows.
The United squad as it was last summer is stuck in transition with a mix of young players whose improvement did not match their talent and senior players, many of which past their prime. After openingly committing to Utd's intentions in the transfer market fans will be expecting Woodward to deliver signings to a financial level we haven't seen from the club. Often during Fergies days he would bring in 2 or 3 players in a window but the talk is of a cluster of signings. Sure the squad need plenty. With Vidic/Ferdinand there is no dominate centre back therefore one or two are needed. Both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling progress has slowed at best. Jonny Evans injury problems haven't helped. At left back Patrice Evra has been in decline for a while. In central midfield only Michael Carrick provides any level of assurance and he is 33 years old, so a couple players who can player that position is needed there. Finally the clubs lack of pace in attack was so noticeable week in week out. A flying wide man with assists and goals in them needed then. So what am I up to, say 6 players?. That requires the club to spend over 100M maybe the 150m talked about. More of concern is trying to integrate that many players into a side with a new manager to boot. This is not the method the club has followed previously and as a fan we may need to be more patient that many are willing to be.
Overall if you are a Utd fan ask yourself, are you more or less excited than you were when Fergie told us he had chosen David Moyes as manager? If you not a fan ask yourself are you happy that United have appointed LVG or does it increase the chances your Champions League place is under threat for the 2015/2016 season? All in all the club have decided on the safe pair of hands along side the conscience of the club for the second management team since Fergie retired. On paper a sensible and pleasing move.
With no european football, a winning attack minded manager and intentions within the transfer market a top four spot and domestic cup or two will be season ones target.