He started by talking about the honour of taking his first few steps as Manchester United manager alongside Sir Bobby Charlton. By the time Louis van Gaal was up and running yesterday, however, it was clear he won’t need any assistance finding his own way in English football.
It will be Van Gaal’s way or nothing.
The 62-year-old Dutchman was everything we had come to expect: at times abrasive, humble, charming and even funny. But, above all, there was a cast-iron belief in his football philosophy and the importance of others grasping it.
He railed against his reputation as a dictator but this is not a man who is afraid to seek out confrontation or ruffle a few feathers.
Having criticised United’s prized training ground on the club’s television station, Van Gaal walked into his opening press conference at Old Trafford a few minutes late — dressed in a grey suit and club tie — and immediately raised the thorny issue of United’s commercial might impacting on team affairs.
‘Within two days I know how important Manchester United is and how important the sponsors are,’ he said. You could almost hear the uncomfortable fidgeting of men in suits. Later he added, again unprompted: ‘Because of the greatness of this club it’s also much more difficult than another club.
‘This club is guided in the commercial way and we have to fulfil that also. It’s not always easy to fulfil commercial and football expectations. That is my big challenge after two days.’
On the issue of signings, Van Gaal insisted he gave his ‘approval’ to the deals for Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw. He will not demand any more arrivals until the existing squad have been given the chance to buy into his philosophy when they leave for a tour of America at lunchtime today.
‘My method is always the same,’ he said. ‘I want to look at the present players. I don’t know the players until I have trained and coached them. Firstly, I want to see, over the first two, three, four weeks, how the players perform my philosophy and how quickly they can pick it up. Then maybe I shall buy other players.’
Asked about the importance of drawing on the experience of stars such as Wayne Rooney, Van Gaal ducked the easy option of offering a glowing tribute to the striker and instead issued a veiled warning to his squad that character will count for more than reputation.
‘I am not convinced of the experience of players,’ he said. ‘It depends on the personality; not always on age and football experience but also as a human being.
‘My philosophy is not just the player but the total.’ Totale mens principe. The whole person. The three most important words in Van Gaal’s vocabulary, said a source close to him yesterday.
He will spend the time on tour talking to his players and finding out everything about their upbringing, background, families and living habits. Then he will assess the footballer. The personal touch and eye for detail is reminiscent of another former United manager.
‘Sir Alex Ferguson called to congratulate me and we have spoken about having a coffee or something to eat,’ said Van Gaal.
‘Sir Alex has a strong philosophy and that was confirmed because he won a lot of titles with Manchester United. I have a strong philosophy. From the age of 39, when I was coach of Ajax, the personality has not changed. But autocratic and having a strong personality are not the same.
‘I am a democratic, empathetic human being. I have a strong personality but the other characteristics are more important. It’s unfair because the media want to show that part of the personality.’
Having again described United as the biggest club in the world, the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach also mentioned on two occasions that he has now worked for the top clubs in the four best leagues in Europe.
He tried to take a Dutch reporter to task on the latter point, briefly forgetting the original question, and there were withering stares for a couple of other journalists he felt were repeating themselves. But there was also evidence of that more human side. Van Gaal would have preferred a break after the World Cup to recharge. He asked for time and patience from United’s owners and supporters.
‘I have to prepare a team and adapt to this big club,’ he said. ‘It shall not be easy but I will do my utmost. And when you see my career you can see what I have won.
‘Now I need all my knowledge to transfer my philosophy into this team. You have to give me time to do that. Not only you, but the CEO and the owners.
‘It would have been better to have a sabbatical and come in January. But when you have been asked by the biggest club in the world, it’s a challenge I will never let go.’ – Daily Mail