The upcoming week is significant in the history of Manchester United for a variety of reasons. Not only does May 8th mark a year to the day since Sir Alex Ferguson signaled his intention to retire last season, but it also seems likely that we will see the club announce its ever first non-British/Irish manager. Just ask a certain Sky pundit and former United captain how significant he thinks that is in itself.
That man seems certain to be Louis van Gaal. Heralded by many in the game as a ‘genius’, the 62 year-old, with the exception of a stint at AZ Alkmaar, has only ever managed at the very top. The current Netherlands manager cut his teeth at Ajax, and oversaw and the club’s 1995 Champions League triumph, a reward for his commitment to promoting the club’s talented group of youngsters to the first team. The irony of this all being that a few months later at the start of the 1995/1996 season, United were told you ‘don’t win anything with kids’. We all know how that turned out, don’t we?
However, of his fifteen major honours, only three have come since the turn of century, something to perhaps unnerve United fans? We’ll see. He also failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in his first spell in charge of the Dutch national team, something that seemed unthinkable at the time. But what can be in no doubt whatsoever is his ability to leave a lasting impression at a club, in terms of playing style, in addition to some of the more infamous stories you will have heard about him around his players. At Barcelona he worked with Figo, Guardiola, Luis Enrique and Rivaldo and formed a team that went onto win two successive La Liga crowns. It was however his failure to win the club the 1999 Champions League that will forever haunt his time in Catalonia. You may remember that season for different reasons, but this was Barca’s centenary year and of course the final was being played in their own backyard. Falling’s out with the club’s board ultimately led to his departure, with him returning only briefly a few months later.
His most recent venture into top European management came at Bayern Munich, where he started the club’s transformation from ‘FC Hollywood’ to the powerhouse that we see today. Again, he focused on developing the club’s crop of young talent, resulting in the likes of Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber becoming permanent first-team fixtures. His innovations on the coaching field also resulted in Bastian Schweinsteiger being converted from a wide player into one of the best central midfielders in world football. It was his Bayern who knocked United out of the 2010 Champions League quarter-finals on away goals, en route to being beaten by Jose Mourinho’s Inter in the final. But despite his ability to work with big names and improve players on the coaching field, this United squad is still in need of a significant rebuild. Given his age, van Gaal is not a manager for the long-term but instead one to lay the foundations for the future success of the club, perhaps led by the current interim player/manager.
Ryan Giggs has undoubtedly brought about a shift in the mood of United fans, who now go into the summer transfer window with a positive view on what may lie ahead. United’s comprehensive 4-0 victory over Norwich in his debut match signaled a return to the ‘attack, attack, attack’ virtues which had been distinctly lacking during David Moyes’ ill-fated time at the helm. But he is tomorrow’s man, and instead should be made an integral part of the van Gaal set-up for the next few years. What better way for Giggs to further enhance his managerial and coaching skills than working under someone like van Gaal, who let’s not forget, gave Jose Mourinho his big coaching break during his time at Barcelona. Having spent his entire career at the club, the Welshman has learnt from the very best and would be the ideal United manager for the years to come. But let’s not discount the influence of his fellow Class of ’92 members – Scholes, Butt and Phil Neville. Butt will, in all likelihood, return to his role as Under 19’s coach at the club, but it is Scholes’ presence that must not be understated. Make no mistake, Paul Scholes would not have even contemplated returning to United as a coach under a David Moyes’ regime. He saw the way things were going and more specifically, where they were going wrong – as pointed out during his rare appearance on Sky as a pundit during the 3-0 defeat to City in March. Those in power at the club should even look into the possibility of Gary Neville returning to the club in the future, but perhaps that will only come if/when Ryan Giggs becomes manager on a permanent basis. Then we will really see whether United can win anything with kids, this time in the dugout.
This post was written by Conor Gates. He is an opinionated Manchester United supporter well worth a follow @ConorGates1
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