Robin van Persie has revealed that Louis van Gaal has challenged his Manchester United players to become more like the Dutch, urging them to “pull on the same rope” by becoming more outspoken in team meetings.
Van Persie, Van Gaal’s captain during Holland’s World Cup campaign, said in the wake of United’s 5-3 defeat at Leicester City last week that the squad spent an hour dissecting their second-half collapse against Nigel Pearson’s team during a meeting with the manager and his coaches.
United responded on the pitch with a 2-1 home victory over West Ham United on Saturday, but Van Gaal said his players are still learning to adjust to his philosophy at Old Trafford.
Citing his Holland experience with his manager, Van Persie insists that, while his compatriot's methods are challenging, they will prove successful and ensure that the club qualifies for next year’s Champions League.
“Everybody gets involved in the project and everyone has their own say which is maybe new for some players but not for me, as I know how he works,” Van Persie said. “I think it’s very interesting and very good because we are all pulling on the same rope, as the Dutch say. It is very demanding in a good way as you have to be focused every single day of the sessions or the meetings.
“He wants players to get involved in the meeting, too. You have to give your own input which is what the staff likes, but that’s a bit of the Dutch thing. Only me and Daley Blind knew how he worked before, so that takes some time, but I’m convinced we will do what he wants us to do and go where he wants us to go.
“I had two years with Van Gaal as the national coach and that’s a different situation from working with him on a daily basis. I had a bit of insight in to how he works and it gave me a head start, but his way of working is very good, very direct and very clear for everyone. There is a lot of communication and he is doing great, but he’s trying to get his philosophy in to a lot of new players.”
United’s victory over West Ham lifted the club to seventh in the Premier League, ahead of Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur – all of whom finished above United last season. With Everton due at Old Trafford on Sunday, United have the opportunity to open up an early gap on their rivals for European qualification, but Van Persie admits that returning to the Champions League is the priority this season.
“That’s our aim this year to be sure, to be in the top four,” Van Persie, speaking at the launch of Abengoa, United’s first global sustainable technology partner, said. “If you look at our players, fans, squad, stadium, it’s normal to be in the top four. This year we have a great manager, great staff, great fans, so when you look at everything together it makes it hard [not to be in Champions League].
“Everything is in place to be up there competing with the very best teams. I think we can do it and we will. We all have one target, which is to win and win as much as we can.
“If I look at what I have seen in training and on the pitch in games I can see that it is getting much better. Now we have to extend that and make at least the top four. That is a realistic target but it’s still early in the season. We are winners. We are not here just to set low standards. We want them to be as high as possible, winning games and winning trophies.”
Van Persie, who is expected to continue his new strike partnership with Radamel Falcao against Everton, says United must now use their attacking qualities to “frighten” opponents. “I think we can be able to actually do that,” Van Persie said. “If you look at these players, they are great players in their individual way. But now we are working together on this project and I think games like winning 4-0 against QPR help.
“We had a setback against Leicester, but to win in the circumstances that we did at the weekend, when we ended up 10 v 11, it sends a message and shows that even in these difficult games we can win. Now we have to extend that.”