Monday 5 December 2016

John Giles: There is an element of a spoofer in Louis van Gaal... but he has authority

Read John Giles' exclusive column in The Herald every week

Published 02/10/2015 | 19:38

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, pictured, goes head to head with Arsene Wenger on Sunday
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, pictured, goes head to head with Arsene Wenger on Sunday

He's a conundrum, Louis van Gaal. Manchester United are top of the Premier League but I'm not sure how they got there or how he's going to keep them there.

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I'm not sure if he has the knowledge to do it and my instincts tell me that there is an element of the spoofer in his make-up but I can't argue with the evidence of the league table.

All around him, managers and teams are faltering and in Chelsea's case, collapsing. I know it's always a supreme effort to win a Premier League title and nobody does it easily but I think everyone would agree that the standards in the Top Four have dropped.

One good run of form might be enough to win it and from all the title hopefuls out there, the two Manchester clubs look best equipped to do it - City because they have the best squad and United because they have van Gaal.

He is blessed with a singular personality and while I wonder about the store of football knowledge he has and how he uses it, I have to admire his natural authority.

A few weeks back, there was talk of a player mutiny at Old Trafford when it emerged that Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick went to van Gaal to tell him the dressing room was 'flat'.

Van Gaal was only too happy to admit that he had spoken with his players about his training methods and by doing that, he threw them a bone.

But I'll bet they are still doing his drills, still working to the programme he wants. He has his way and nothing shifts him from that.

It's a fantastic base for a manager to start from and even if there is an element of spoofing to what he does, he can always fall back on his authority.

I think spoofing is really the wrong word for what he does. Maybe salesmanship would be better. All great managers can sell their message to players very well indeed but not so many can bring the media along too.

Although Van Gaal definitely enjoys the limelight, I'll bet he despises the media work but he embraces it and uses it to his advantage.

Every van Gaal press conference is an event and often, deeper questions about his football philosophy are lost amid the bluster and crankiness.

On the pitch though I wonder about him. I wonder how he spent so much and ended up with such obvious weak points in his squad but then I have to consider the condition Alex Ferguson left Manchester United in and the job needed to rebuild the team.

David Moyes tried to appease players to keep the show on the road but van Gaal carved straight into the heart of what I'm sure he saw as a problem and made sure that Robin van Persie didn't hang around for too long.

It was ruthless and it sent a signal to Rooney and everyone else.

I would have been even more impressed if he had lined up the perfect replacement and that's where the confusion sets in.

He does so many things so well but messed up on a fundamental like making sure you have enough strikers at the club with virtually an open cheque book in your hand - two summers in a row.

He ended up with Anthony Martial almost by accident and he said himself that he had to buy Memphis Depay too soon.

Both signings allowed him to boast that he was buying players for Manchester United's next manager and I would put that alongside his initial assertion that it would take three months for his new squad to learn the van Gaal way.

We now know that he moved that out to nine months and then a few years as he went along. He can move blithely from one firmly held position to another without missing a beat and because he is a formidable man to deal with or oppose, he gets away it.

I've looked hard for evidence of progress on the field but I don't see much. His team still desperately short of a playmaker but I remember how he treated Wesley Sneijder in the 2010 World Cup finals and wonder does he even recognise the need?

I don't really understand what van Gaal is trying to do with his defence and in all the money he spent, he doesn't appear to have found one top rate centre-back, a lad like Nemanja Vidic to command his area. Again, he doesn't seem to see the need.

And yet, Manchester United are top of the League.

It's a puzzle alright. I'm not sure whether he's just a very good car salesman with nothing under the bonnet or a man who understands how the engine works too.

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