Louis van Gaal’s days at Manchester United seem numbered but nevertheless, there are those would acknowledge that his work should be the foundation of something useful in the long term. After 26 years of Sir Alex Ferguson, the club needed a fundamental change in not just the playing style but also the way the club functions. Sir Alex was a force of nature and ran the entire club from top to bottom, something that is implausible to expect again in the modern game.
A lesser manager than the legendary figure is simply not capable of handling the responsibility single handedly and as a result, a fundamental change in the way the club is ran on and off the pitch needs to happen. Despite claims from ex-players that the Red Devils do not need a philosophy, more emphasis should be placed upon the importance of longevity. This is far from isolated to the personnel running the club, but including the basic aspects of how to play football and a shared vision too.
To be able to secure success and continuity in the current scenario where victorious coaches stay with a team for three to five years, a vision is paramount. This ideology should be independent of the coach and should be embedded in the ethos of the club and the management. Management guru Paul Drucker once said: “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or super-men to manage it. It must be organised in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”
A significant feature of restructuring a football club should be to have a shared vision of how play. The product on the pitch is the most important one for a football club. It might be a business these days, but the quality of football on a match-day should dictate the rest of the club. Often in the past two years, transfers have been motivated for the wrong reasons, which is not the best way to go about achieving long-term goals.
A Director of Football would be a useful tool to enforce the path the club should take. A position like that is less exposed to the results and faith of the playing staff. It would also increase the proportion of people focusing on football rather than commercial gains at the club. Currently, Ed Woodward is in charge along with two others and this needs to change to Bayern’s model of incorporating club legends within the system.
In the current state, it’s difficult to explain the basic ideas that Louis van Gaal has implemented at the club but it is fair to say that they are essential to build upon. The most important basic principles being followed by this United team are equivalent to those which some of the most successful clubs have built upon in the past. United are dull, turgid and boring for long periods of time but when the system works, they are exceptional at winning back the ball and using it well to dominate teams in terms of possession and pressing. Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams played excellent exciting football but he’s not here any more and I believe the club needs to go in a different direction; similar to Bayern when they appointed Louis van Gaal. Paul Brietner; writer of Pep Confidential, elaborates on the choice by Bayern to hire Louis van Gaal. He states that Bayern Board decided that possession-football was the way forward and chose the Dutchman to implement it. The former national team coach was successful in the most basic of principles at the Bavarian giants but in the final third, Bayern did not have flexibility and the attack looked stagnant.
Paul Breitner explained that Van Gaal’s system at Bayern was extremely rigid and that players were not allowed to deviate from their designated area or the decided game plan. The team would play one-touch football and end up with 80% possession without showing any real rhythm or pace. This was the beginning of the 6-year plan for Bayern and it was very hard for the crowd to swallow the dour football served up by the team. Jupp Heynckes; who replaced Van Gaal, maintained his system but tinkered with the idea of keeping the ball at all costs. Pep Guardiola; more in the mould of Biesla-type possession football, granted the players more freedom and executed the final phase of the philosophy.
Ed Woodward can learn a number of things from this, the most important being that Bayern decided upon a strategy and stuck with it. They did not fire the coach without hiring someone with a similar view of how football should be played. If Manchester United were now to hire Jose Mourinho, they would have to start from scratch. It would once again beckon a couple of years of rebuilding and more changes in personnel, strategy and the back-room of the club.
When David Moyes became the manager, he replaced (upgraded) the scouting system in place and Louis Van Gaal has once again changed the scouting system existing at the club. The youth academy now plays the same way as the first team and this applies for youth teams at each level. A further change in the manager would lead to more instability in the ranks of the club and as has been discussed in the media, the youth set-up at United needs emergent over haul.
Several talented local youngsters are being poached by Manchester City’s academy and even the kids of recent United players like Darren Fletcher and Robin van Persie chose to join the rival academy owing to their superior facilities. An appointment for a new head of academy is in the works and a major restructuring is being planned. It is very important to maintain continuity to successfully upgrade the academy.
In the traditional sense, Manchester United are a club out of its time. After the retirement of the man who ran the entire club it’s been hard for the hierarchy to manage the behemoth Fergie created in 26 years. If the fans were to be patient with the current situation and change the coach at the end of the season, it would be far smoother transition. The time in between should be spent in looking at coaches that can upgrade and tinker with the basic principles of possession football Louis van Gaal has instilled in this team.
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