Arise, King Louis
Manchester United have a manager again.
Louis van Gaal touched down in Manchester on Wednesday and headed straight toward his first training session and meetings with his new staff. You have to admire the guts of a man who has taken his nation to third place in the World Cup denying himself even a day off before taking on his next job.
The fervour behind Van Gaal's arrival is perhaps an indication of the enormous void left by the end of the World Cup, but also of the expectation his exploits in that competition have created. Manchester United fans are expecting the world from the Dutchman before he has even taken charge in a single game. The pressure is on.
This afternoon, he was given a brief tour of United's training complex, and cheesy photos of him smiling alongside assistant manager Ryan Giggs and club executive vice chairman Ed Woodward were soon circling on the club's website. After the embarrassment that was caused by the photo of a toothy David Moyes with a "Manchester United mouse-mat" last year, you would think the club might be more cautious.
But people are excited. Nobody expected the Netherlands to do quite as well as they did in Brazil, thumping both the hosts and holders on their way to an impressive third-place finish. In the meantime, Van Gaal has proven himself to be eminently quotable and unafraid of making tough calls under pressure. He will need to be.
There is work to do at Old Trafford. Moyes was certainly handed a poisoned chalice by taking over for Sir Alex Ferguson, but nonetheless, the squad is imbalanced and short of confidence. Several players need a stern kick on the rear end.
Van Gaal is said to be running the rule over six players who are nearing the end of their contracts. That may be the case, but it is more likely that he will pay only cursory glances over the performances of Darren Fletcher, Shinji Kagawa, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley, Javier Hernandez and Ashley Young. He has a bigger fish to fry, and he knows it.
What Van Gaal wants to know, and what everyone connected to the club wants to know, is can he work with Wayne Rooney? That is the key question. It has already been confirmed that United's England contingent are not getting any extra time off after the showpiece in Brazil. That can only be a good thing; they all need to get it out of their systems.
The attitude of United's No. 10 contains the key to many of the team's conundrums. If Rooney can be squeezed into the same team as Robin van Persie, then the formation of Van Gaal's best XI starts to take shape. If he can't, then the new man will have an extremely well-paid and disgruntled personality which would be self-defeating to sell.
That Rubicon might not be crossed this week, but make no mistake, Van Gaal is thinking about it as is Rooney and Van Persie. You can expect some full-blooded performances and meaty tackles from the Englishman as the club embark on their U.S. tour. He won't be giving up a starting spot without a fight.
Twelve months and two weeks ago, Moyes chose to move from the club's academy building for his first Manchester United news conference. But he knew the questions about Rooney would be coming.
Wherever Van Gaal faces the press at 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, he can expect a similar line of queries. Just what exactly is he going to do with Wayne Rooney? And how can he get this club back on its feet again?
Because that is what the Manchester United manager needs to do.
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