Louis Van Gaal: 'I'm not a dictator'
Manchester United manager defends approach
Louis van Gaal has issued a robust defence of his managerial approach at Manchester United, insisting "I am not a dictator", after confirming that Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick raised concerns over morale within the squad.
Van Gaal, whose team face Liverpool at Old Trafford this evening, has seen his methods subjected to intense scrutiny this week following revelations of the dressing-room disharmony which prompted Rooney and Carrick, United's captain and vice-captain, to speak to the manager last month.
But in a passionate and detailed response to question marks over his management, Van Gaal claimed that the concerns raised by his players were a positive development, highlighting the trust he feels from the squad.
"All the players are communicating with me," Van Gaal said. "They are coming to my office. Believe me, it is like that, but I am not a dictator, I am a communicator.
"Rooney and Carrick came to me and said the dressing-room is flat - they told me because they wanted to help me. They try to warn me.
"I then went to my dressing-room and discussed with my players and we discussed a lot of aspects, but I think I have a superb relationship with my players.
"In my career as a manager, I didn't have so many who come to say something about the atmosphere in the dressing-room or the way we train, or something like that. It is very positive that they are coming to you and that they trust you.
"But it was Carrick and Rooney and that was alarming for me because they are the captains. That's why I went to the dressing-room."
While Van Gaal insists that Rooney and Carrick simply expressed concerns over the "flat" dressing-room, rather than suggesting discontent with the Dutchman's training methods, the manager conceded that he has since made changes to his approach and insists he will continue to show flexibility.
"The players have to explain why (we should change), and how, and then I'll listen," Van Gaal said. "Not only I will listen, also my assistants are listening, and then we discuss it and then I have to change it. But, yes, if you come with strong arguments, I adapt."
Van Gaal was unrepentant, however, on his insistence on several meetings during the week with his players.
"I have read there are a lot of meetings, but that's the philosophy," he said. "You have to analyse opponents, then you need a meeting to show that. Then you have to make a game-plan, then you have to hold a meeting about the game-plan.
"Then you have to practise, then we have to discuss with the players, on the pitch, how they feel.
"Then you have to evaluate a performance. Maybe we then have to change - and when they have good arguments, we change."
Despite concerns among some players and supporters over United's uninspiring style of football, Van Gaal claims that his squad are given an input into how they play.
"I have changed the way that I say the game-plan to them," Van Gaal said. "Now, I ask in advance and they can say what they want. Most of the strategy is always the same because they like the way we have done it."
Van Gaal, who insisted he has increased the number of days off for his players due to the off-field demands of playing for the "most commercial club in the world", believes that the "flat" atmosphere described by Rooney and Carrick was due to the uncertainty of the transfer window and large-scale overhaul of the United squad during his year-long reign.
"The whole dressing-room has been changed," Van Gaal said. "Can you imagine when your friend must leave? What are your feelings then?
"Friends are going away, and then we have problems with (Victor) Valdes, then we have problems with the transfer of David de Gea, who has a great influence in the dressing-room.
"That is why it was flat. But I am pleased that they come to say that to me, because I can communicate about that, and then we can change or not change. It's dependable on the arguments.
"When I went to the dressing-room, after that the atmosphere was much better and after that we won again.
"We have managed the Champions League, which is also not bad I think, and then we have managed the transfer (new contract) of De Gea.
"Some players are coming to me to apologise about what has been said in the papers, but the fans are shouting every week 'Louis van Gaal's army'. They are very satisfied and the players are satisfied."
Yet yesterday's media gathering was not exactly a stroll in the park with Van Gaal - "trustworthy? trustworthy?" he said, turning to his press secretary for some vocabulary advice before spitting out the word used this week to describe (accurately) journalistic sources about the discontent.
But by turning this moment into an opportunity to reiterate his ways of working, he avoided the sour, defensive demeanour which managers tend to sink into on such occasions.
This, more than his words, lent credence to his central claim that he is "not a dictator but a communicator".
Van Gaal's Old Trafford staff will tell you that he can be just as democratic as he professes to be. "He'll always hear your argument but you must have the case to back it up," says one.
But the problem for those players who hope to see greater emphasis on individualism and the pure fun of playing football in his training sessions is that such a shift does not conform with his football creed.
If you want free rein, then Carlo Ancelotti is your man. Van Gaal, still the schoolteacher he once was, believes in drilling the technical aspects of the game until they are second nature.
He loves stable, reliable players, not intuitive ones.
If Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are not technically up to the mark in his eyes - and they have not been - then they will make 700 defensive passes a week at Carrington until he is satisfied. (© Daily Telegraph, London)