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May 20, 2014

Brewin: Louis Van Gaal's five-point plan

Louis van Gaal has the task of reinvigorating Manchester United after the decline under David Moyes. John Brewin assesses the key factors that will determine whether he succeeds.

1. Have a good World Cup

The parable of Jacques Santini seems pertinent here. When Tottenham Hotspur signed the services of France's coach ahead of Euro 2004, it looked like chairman Daniel Levy had pulled a masterstroke. That was until France had a nightmare of a tournament, exiting to Greece in the last eight amid rancour and disappointment. Santini was a lame duck before he had even started at White Hart Lane, and departed Spurs after just 13 matches.

Greater names than Santini have failed after making the swap back from international to club football. Luiz Felipe Scolari spent Euro 2008 linked with the Chelsea move he eventually made. Portugal fell below expectations when losing at the quarterfinal stage, and "Big Phil" lasted just seven months. Cesar Luis Menotti's first job after failing to defend Argentina's World Cup at the 1982 finals was a lacklustre season at Barcelona.

Van Gaal, whose previous tenure as Netherlands manager ended after failing to qualify for the 2002 finals, must get his team out of a troublesome Group B. Though Australia look to be the outsiders, Spain, Chile and the Dutch will not go into two. If he is preparing for life at Old Trafford after an early exit, Van Gaal's cachet might be mortally damaged before he has even arrived in Manchester.

2. Signpost a brighter future

A whole raft of elite names were given their chance in first-team football by Van Gaal. At Barcelona, Xavi and Andres Iniesta were trusted while, at Bayern Munich, he blooded Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller. Going back to the Ajax days, he gave debuts to Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Edwin van der Sar and Patrick Kluivert, among many others who have made fine careers in the game.

Van Gaal favours younger players, for both their energy and desire to impress him, and thus follow instructions. United's setup under Moyes severely lacked such types. He selected just one fresh youth product in a squad all season, and James Wilson -- who scored twice when given a chance against Hull recently -- never kicked a ball.

After Adnan Januzaj's initial burst, the Belgian faded from reckoning. Both must be expected to be given more opportunities by the Dutchman. Perhaps Guillermo Varela, the 21-year-old Uruguayan signed last season after a trial under Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure but who was never played by Moyes, might be used as an option in the troublesome right-back position.

Beyond that, working the youth setup to feed the first team would make a welcome change. Supply lines have been running dry.

3. Rattle some cages

That Moyes was overawed by the job became ever more painfully apparent. The still-escaping backstory is of a series of battles with leading players whom he failed to win over. A recent suggestion is that Moyes never once raised his voice in the United dressing room. Such timidity cannot be expected from Van Gaal, whose despotic style may have some of the old guard wishing that Ferguson's hair dryer could be switched back on. The new man is not here to make friends.

Van Gaal's respect for reputations exists only for his own. He has fallen out with stars throughout his career: He and Rivaldo clashed frequently at Barcelona, while former Bayern Munich striker Luca Toni, detailing his issues with the coach, revealed Van Gaal once showed his testicles to the players to prove a point.

Placing a stamp of authority will no doubt head the first steps. Sacrificial lambs might be sought -- something that Moyes denied himself the chance to use. Wayne Rooney, long-term contract or not, might find himself made uncomfortable, especially in the light of what seems a cosy relationship between Van Gaal and his Netherlands captain, Robin van Persie.

4. Increase the aesthetic

United fans had inoculated themselves against the 2013-14 season involving a slide in fortunes. There had to be a hangover from the Ferguson regime, but Moyes failed to take a real opportunity in not making his team play more attractive football than had become habitual in Sir Alex's ever-more pragmatic latter years. Instead, United became yet more predictable, defensively minded, even though were not actually much good in defence, either. Heavy use of the crossed ball was the only clear tactic.

Van Gaal always sets his teams up to attack. He sticks to his hybrid of the Ajax system that has been his bedrock since he was a youth-team player at the Amsterdam giants in the early 1970s. He is also known to throw caution to the wind -- in a losing World Cup qualifier against Ireland in 2001, his Dutch team ended up playing four strikers.

{C}"Total Football" in Manchester seems like an attractive proposition, especially when following on from a man who came to be known as "Dithering Dave" and his dour, defensive thinking. Concerns that bedding in such a philosophy has usually taken time must be flagged, but if signs of free-flowing fun are evident, then many of the club's fans will be happy enough.

5. Better to burn out than fade away

At 62, having not lasted longer than four years at a club after leaving Ajax in 1997, Van Gaal is nobody's idea of a "continuity candidate," the type of long-term appointment Moyes was supposed to be. There are some who believe executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and the Glazers see their new arrival as some kind of wrecking ball to blow out the last vestiges of the Ferguson regime, so that the club can start from something like scratch, and modernise. There are too many cobwebbed corners remaining from those 26 years in charge.

It was Van Gaal who laid foundations from which Barcelona, and then Bayern Munich, became great. By then, he was long gone from both, having fallen out with players and officials before meeting his termination point. United's ruling class have probably planned for the same end game, so their new man has little need to change his ways -- not that there is any evidence to suggest he will do so. His usual revolutionary zeal can serve the club's need for change, even if he himself does not last long.