Saturday 24 February 2018

Under-pressure Van Gaal fighting to keep the peace as players voice frustrations

Van Gaal: Heavy handed
Van Gaal: Heavy handed

Mark Ogden

Louis van Gaal is battling to regain the confidence of his Manchester United players, with a series of acrimonious departures and the prominence of the club's video analyst intensifying growing discontent with his approach and training methods.

Van Gaal, who spent yesterday in talks at United's Carrington training ground with Jorge Mendes, David de Gea's agent, will face the media today for the first time since the extent of squad disharmony at Old Trafford emerged.

And the Dutchman's 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 da Silva and the influence of video analyst Max Reckers have added to the mounting tension and senior 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.

Read more: Martial's journey from mean streets of Paris

Having previously insisted that his captain and vice-captain have 'special privileges' under his management, any concerns voiced by them 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 Hernandez and Angel 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's players, has a central role in his backroom team.

But with several of the United squad schooled under Alex Ferguson's cavalier, attacking approach, and the Latin element of the team rooted in flair and expression, there is feeling Reckers' 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 hard 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 several squad members. And many players felt his decision to continually overlook and then sell full-back Rafael to Lyon 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 US after being 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's players believe that Van Gaal's coaching, while repetitive and formulaic, is of the necessary to standard to improve the team, with none of the concerns 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 prescriptive approach that worries players the most.

Supporters have also started to vent their frustration at their team's unimaginative football, with tomorrow's clash with Liverpool likely to be a crucial fork in the road for the manager.

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.

Read more: How Manchester United stars turned on Louis van Gaal - in their own words

At Old Trafford, there is little affection towards him from United's Spanish contingent, but the manager is ready to offer De Gea the chance to reclaim his position in goal following the collapse of his move to Real Madrid.

Van Gaal's meeting with Mendes at Carrington was aimed to smoothing over the fault-lines of his relationship with the Spain goalkeeper. , having refused to select the 24-year-old for the first team so far owing to his assertion that De Gea was not in the correct frame of mind.

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport