If the Manchester United players are in any doubt about what their new boss Louis van Gaal requires from them, a coaching manual he wrote in Holland but never translated into English is a good place to start.
Modestly entitled ‘Visie’ (Vision), the great man outlines his philosophy in words that would be clear to even the biggest football simpleton. ‘My training is based on an attacking style of football. Never defensive!’ is the emphatic message, complete with self-penned exclamation mark.
The full-on lesson continues: ‘To destruct the organisation of the opposition my team must pass the ball around at the highest possible speed with a terrific use of all positions. When we lose the ball I don’t want my team to run backwards, I want them to win it back in the quickest possible time.’
Most intriguingly, ‘Visie’ — written after he had achieved huge international success with Barcelona — espouses the view that a great technical player must also be great tactically, and vice-versa.
‘I deliberately call my training models technical/tactical, because in my sessions one is linked to the other,’ he wrote. ‘I will be right on top of every player, demanding each player will give the maximum in each passing session.’
As United’s stars lap up the rays in California ahead of their first match of the Van Gaal era against Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday, the 62-year-old’s vision is both a motivation and a warning.
For all his incredible achievements with Ajax, Barca, AZ Alkmaar and the Dutch national team, Van Gaal has never coached a British player before and he is intrigued as much as anyone else by whether British players can cope with his demands.
Van Gaal does not want to turn Old Trafford into ‘Little Holland’ but such are the potential tactical deficiencies among the English players he is inheriting a couple of reinforcements are needed, particularly with Michael Carrick sidelined for three months with ankle-ligament damage sustained in training on Thursday.
Dutch World Cup star Daley Blind is his first priority. The 24-year-old Ajax player showed in Brazil, where he helped Van Gaal’s Holland reach the semi-final, that he is infinitely better at adapting to different positions than Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Phil Jones or Chris Smalling, for example.
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will be politely asked to secure the signature of Blind in the face of growing interest from Barcelona. He can play left-back, wing-back or holding midfield. His father Danny was one of Van Gaal’s assistants in Brazil.
And another Dutch international, Kevin Strootman, will arrive from Roma by January at the latest. He would already be at Old Trafford if not for a knee injury that forced him to miss the World Cup.
Van Gaal hopes that three ‘Dutchies’ — Robin van Persie is already in situ — will be enough and that the British players can adapt to his philosophy.
Some managers such as Roberto Martinez feel English players are tactically aware if coached properly. Other foreign bosses became frustrated having to repeat themselves in training. Those included Sven Goran Eriksson, Fabio Capello and Rafael Benitez.
Van Gaal himself spoke of the need for the United players to ‘click’ with his ideas when he made an impressive debut in front of the world’s media at Old Trafford last week.
And in a separate interview with the club’s in-house television station MUTV, he was honest enough to state: ‘I know all the players and how they have played football under the direction of Moyes or Ferguson or Hodgson. But I want to know them personally, and also how they perform to my philosophy.’
Traditionally, Van Gaal’s sides play with attacking flair, with players expected to interchange positions depending on their opponents.
Blind is perfect. He could cover the absence of Carrick and also fill in for teenager Luke Shaw when asked, as United are close to selling their other left-back, Patrice Evra, to Juventus.
Former England manager Steve McClaren, who like Van Gaal has also worked in Holland and Germany, said in a recent interview that he believes it is harder to instruct English players on tactical issues.
The current Derby County boss said: ‘Dutch players are very strong technically and tactically. It comes about from the way they are brought up by the clubs from an early age.
‘At Twente, the 11-year-old youth players would watch first-team games on video and be set homework on a certain tactical aspect. It develops a very strong tactical understanding of the game from a very early age. Everybody in the Netherlands is a coach.
‘Both the Dutch and Germans respect the mental strength of English players and the physicality of the game. But there is not a lot of respect for the coaching cultures and systems in England.
‘There is a lack of technical and tactical work in how our players are coached from a young age compared to other nations.’
With no European football, Woodward is also under pressure to sell players to reduce the United squad to a manageable size. Anderson and Bebe aren’t on the US tour while winger Nani is a target for AC Milan.
Rooney is eager to please Van Gaal but after being Moyes’s favoured son and signing a lucrative new five-year deal last season, he will have to prove himself all over again. His past off-the-field antics will almost certainly rule him out of securing his dream of being United captain.
As a player, he will have to buy into Van Gaal’s preference for moving the ball quickly, willingness to win the ball back and be a model citizen off the pitch; standards that saw the coach fall out with Franck Ribery and Luca Toni at Bayern Munich when they fell below them.
The last word should go to Van Gaal. In the chapter entitled ‘Practise’, he emphasises: ‘Essential in my eyes to improve the players, young and old, is to repeat drills.
‘In the beginning they think they are doing the same thing over and over again. I will hammer on the way they pass, the way they control and pass again. This must be done in an incredibly high tempo.’
In the next couple of weeks, United will limber up for the new season with matches in Los Angeles, Denver, Washington DC, Ann Arbor, and possibly Miami. A couple of them sound like great holiday places, but make no mistake, it’ll be hard work proving themselves to their Dutch master.
It’s all about the vision. – Mail On Sunday