Van Gaal has vision for his Man Utd
There it was, there it was, and there it was again. During Louis van Gaal's first news conference as Manchester United manager, one word kept recurring: "philosophy." The Dutchman said it 11 times, and by the close of his confident performance, one thing was clear above all: This is a man with a reassuringly clear vision of how he wants his team to play. Of course, David Moyes, van Gaal's predecessor, had his style -- a firm, uncompromising 4-4-2 -- but it is the fluidity of van Gaal's tactical plans that are so appealing.
In a World Cup notable for coaches who were superb at solving problems in the flow of the game -- witness, for example, Chile's Jorge Sampaoli, and Germany's Joachim Low -- van Gaal stood out even in such exalted company, executing tactical masterstrokes throughout the tournament.
Key to the Netherlands' victories in the most eye-catching of those games -- against Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico and Brazil -- was the footballing intelligence of his players, and their ability to adjust to new systems. His players can therefore expect plenty of homework -- and given that the training-ground atmosphere is reportedly "buzzing," they are looking forward to it.
What was also notable from van Gaal's remarks was how undaunted he sounded by the prospect of taking charge. Although he referred to Manchester United on three separate occasions as the world's biggest club, he seemed to see the opportunity as a platform, not a burden.
This, again, is a marked departure from the demeanour of Moyes, on whose face pressure seemed to act as an aggressive physical force. A certain strength of ego is needed to manage Manchester United, and van Gaal's self-esteem is as robust as they come. If anything, he is too busy being proud of adding United to his coaching CV to be particularly afraid, which was evident as he happily listed the previous big clubs -- Bayern, Barcelona and Ajax -- where he had been in charge.
It was also interesting to see van Gaal mention the importance of a long-term strategy for the youth team, alongside the main "project" that is the first team. One of the Dutchman's greatest qualities, as has been well documented, is his ability to leave excellent structures behind at each club and to promote from within. This is a quality that he alluded to with his mention of Clarence Seedorf, to whom he granted his Ajax debut when he was only 16 years of age.
In relation to that Seedorf example, he also gave nothing away when asked if he would automatically be relying on older players like Wayne Rooney for their experience. The message was clear: if you are good enough for the first team, then you are both old enough and experienced enough.
Elsewhere, he took time to reassure people that he would not simply attempt to import the Dutch footballing culture wholesale into the Premier League, which is why he had appointed Ryan Giggs as his No. 2. Van Gaal, of course, had once brought a cluster of Dutch players with him to Barcelona, and although the team had won league titles, there was a feeling that these players formed too much of a clique.
He is clearly concerned not to make such a mistake again, and to integrate as much of the club's footballing culture into his reign. Specifically, in news that will please traditionalists, he will create a role for Paul Scholes, the most gifted graduate of the Class of '92.
Van Gaal also addressed the perception that he is an autocratic manager, a notion partly dispelled by his decision to consult Robin van Persie long in advance of the Netherlands' tactical switch from 4-3-3 to 5-3-2 at this World Cup. He is certainly someone who does not waste time making decisions -- witness his somewhat-ominous decision to omit Javier Hernandez and Marouane Fellaini from the club's preseason tour -- yet that does not mean there is probably much more nuance to the Dutchman than he has been given credit.
It was a highly accomplished performance from van Gaal, and without a ball yet kicked, there is substantial room for optimism.