Van Gaal extends olive branch to David De Gea with contract worth £200k-a-week
Louis van Gaal is ready to hand the olive branch of a new contract to goalkeeper David de Gea as he battles to regain the confidence of a Manchester United squad that has raised concerns over the manager's methods and abrasive approach.
A series of acrimonious player departures, most notably that of Rafael da Silva to Lyon, and the prominence of the club’s video analyst, Max Reckers, has intensified growing discontent about his regime at Old Trafford.
But Van Gaal spent Thursday in talks at United’s Carrington training ground with Jorge Mendes, De Gea’s agent, with the possibility of extending the goalkeeper’s contract less than a fortnight after his £29m move to Real Madrid collapsed in the final minutes of the Spanish transfer window.
Any move to extend De Gea’s contract would be a surprise due to the contentious breakdown of his move to Real, but it would also offer a crucial sign of Van Gaal’s readiness to repair a broken relationship with a player who last season rejected a new £200,000-a-week five-year deal at the club.
Van Gaal will face the media on Friday afternoon and his reaction to reports of his players urging him to allow greater freedom of expression and reduce the ‘rigidity’ of his playing style and training regime will shed light on his willingness to accept that a change is required or whether he stays loyal to the ‘philosophy’ that he has previously imposed at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
It is understood that Van Gaal’s heavy-handed treatment of Brazilian defender Rafael and the influence of video analyst Reckers have added to the mounting tension and senior United players have become exasperated by his methods.
But while the situation is understood to be one of early-season teething problems rather than squad mutiny, Van Gaal’s abrasive style of management has prompted senior figures - reportedly captain Wayne Rooney, who has grown frustrated by a paucity of service because of Van Gaal’s tactics, and vice-captain Michael Carrick - to urge the Dutchman to soften his approach and allow more flexibility on the pitch and at training.
Having previously insisted that his captain and vice-captain have “special privileges” under his management, any concerns voiced by those figures would be regarded as within the players’ privileges by Van Gaal.
The situation with Reckers and Rafael, combined with criticisms of Van Gaal by Robin van Persie, Javier Hernández and Ángel Di María following their summer exits, have only exacerbated concerns.
Reckers, the Dutch analyst appointed by Van Gaal to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of opponents and the performances of United players, has a central role in his backroom team.
But with several of the United squad schooled under Sir Alex Ferguson’s cavalier, attacking approach, and the Latin element of the team rooted in flair and expression, there is a feeling that Recker’s input is relied on too much. Players have become frustrated by lengthy video sessions and tactical meetings and the increasing focus on formation and tactics rather than flair.
Similarly, Frans Hoek, Van Gaal’s long-time goalkeeping coach, does not share the same strong working relationship with goalkeeper De Gea that the Spaniard experienced with predecessors Eric Steel and Chris Woods, while Victor Valdes – exiled from the first-team by Van Gaal – is another who has found it difficult to work under Hoek and the manager.
While there is an acceptance that Van Gaal has a long-standing relationship with his coaching team, his hard-line approach to dealing with players, particularly those out of favour, has angered squad members.
And many players felt his decision to continually overlook and then sell full-back Rafael to Lyon this summer showed a lack of respect towards a popular and long-serving member of the squad.
Rafael did not participate on the club’s pre-season tour of the United States and was informed he could leave by Van Gaal, although defender Jonny Evans, who was also told he could depart at the end of last season, did travel to the States to maintain his fitness.
United players believe that Van Gaal’s coaching, while repetitive and formulaic, is of the necessary standard to improve the team. None of the concerns are over his ability to operate at the top level, which several players felt was the fatal flaw that led to David Moyes failing. But it is his demanding training schedule, including lengthy stretches without a rest day, and his prescriptive approach that worries players the most.
Supporters have also started to vent frustration at their team’s unimaginative football.
Tomorrow’s clash with Liverpool is likely to be a crucial fork in the road for the manager, depending on the outcome of the game. With echoes of the closing stages of his reign in charge at Barcelona and Bayern, Van Gaal is struggling to convince groups within his squad of his methods.
He fell out with the Brazilian forward Rivaldo at Barcelona and was sacked by Bayern amid claims that his ego had become a negative force.
At Old Trafford, there is little affection towards him from United’s Spanish contingent, but the re-opening of negotiations with De Gea hints at a climbdown by Van Gaal in his hard-line approach.
Van Gaal’s meeting with Mendes at Carrington was primarily aimed at smoothing over the fault-lines of his relationship with the Spain goalkeeper, having refused to select the 24-year-old for the first team owing to his assertion that De Gea was not in the correct frame of mind.
But the restoration of Van Gaal’s previously healthy relationship with the goalkeeper is a crucial first step in any attempts to persuade him to stay at the club beyond this season.