Another summer of change for United; the second in a row. This year, though more radical changes have been made, ones that (after last season) most United fans will welcome.
In many ways Sir Alex Ferguson’s recommendation that David Moyes should be his successor was a narcissistic one. Sir Alex chose a Scot from a similar footballing background, whose success was known to be based on a ‘hard work’ ethic. The big difference was that Sir Alex was both a ‘perspirational’ as well as an inspirational manager, but David Moyes seemed unable to inspire people to perform beyond themselves in the same way as his predecessor. A large proportion of the squad Moyes inherited clearly did not want to play for him.
So enter Louis van Gaal and the changes this summer, changes in management and coaching staff, changes in playing personnel and changes to our tactical approach. They may prove to be not only radical but, given van Gaal’s decisive and uncompromising character, revolutionary.
Just as David Moyes did, van Gaal brings his own staff to the club. This was clearly a mistake on Moyes part as in effect he threw away a brains trust with a proven record of success. But that brains trust has gone now and a new one is needed. Van Gaal will bring new training methods and tactics and a coaching staff to help him implement them. They come with a proven track record of success themselves.
Moyes, Jimmy Lumsden, Steve Round and Chris Woods have all left. Phil Neville’s future remains uncertain at the time of writing and Ryan Giggs has now retired as a player to take up a place on van Gaal’s staff as an assistant coach. After a brief stint assisting Giggs as a first team coach Nicky Butt returns to reserve team coaching.
Van Gaal has enlisted Marcel Bout as an assistant coach who specialises in opposition scouting. Bout started as an assistant coach at Feyenoord where he was employed between 1995 and 2004. He first worked with van Gaal at AZ Alkmaar between 2006-09 and then joined him again at Bayern Munich. He stayed at Bayern after van Gaal left and worked under Jupp Heynckes. Most recently he has worked for two years as assistant coach to the Netherlands under 21 team.
Frans Hoek is the member of van Gaal’s new staff who has worked with him the longest. A specialist goalkeeping coach at Ajax between 1986 and 1997 when van Gaal built his first great side, Hoek was van der Sar’s coach during his formative years and has worked with van Gaal at Barcelona, (twice) as well as Bayern Munich. He was also the Dutch goalkeeping coach during van Gaal’s two spells as Dutch coach.
Finishing his playing career due to injury in 1986, Albert Stuivenberg has since developed a specialism as a youth coach. He joined the Dutch KNVB, (their FA) in 2006 and worked with a number of age groups, most notably the under-17s, whom he coached to victory in the European Under-17 Championships in 2011 and again in 2012.
At the time of writing five players have left the playing squad: the aforementioned Giggs retired, whilst Vidic had already chosen to leave (prior to changes in management). Rio Ferdinand has been released and has subsequently joined QPR; Patrice Evra has chosen to move to Juventus and Alexander Buttner has been sold to Dynamo Moscow.
18 year old Luke Shaw has been signed to take over the left full back berth from Patrice Evra and his arrival probably hastened the departure of the Frenchman. Strong, technically sound and quick, Shaw has played 67 times for Southampton’s first team and 4 times for England so has a lot of top level experience for one so young. We shouldn’t expect too much of him initially; he won’t solve all our defensive problems, but if he can develop to provide defensive solidity combined with attacking thrust, at least the left back position will be an area where United should soon have few worries. Given Shaw’s age, he has the potential to adopt that role for 10 to 15 years.
Ander Herrera is an accomplished midfield player; a Spanish Under 23 international often referred to as an attacking/creative midfielder. In his career to date he has played as a defensive midfield player and a No 10. United have enough Number 10s, so we might expect him to play further back. His all-round skills can only help to strengthen our midfield. He could play as a box-to-box player. Technically strong with plenty of energy, his ability to retain possession and link play in tight areas will be invaluable. How much and where he will play is one of the uncertainties of the new season. Again a lot will depend on how quickly he settles, but in Herrera’s case this is a bigger question; he has to adapt to a new country and the pace and physicality of the premier league. If his performances against United in the Europa League a couple of seasons ago are anything to go by this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
With the arrival of a new coach/manager and his staff it is no surprise that there is a change in United’s tactical approach. Given van Gaal’s history, everyone, including manutdtactics.com, expected a change to a 4-3-3. That in itself would be a radical change for United, a club for many years wedded to a 4-4-2 approach. But a change to a 3 at the back wing-back approach is perhaps even more radical.
This in part builds on van Gaal’s experiences with Holland at the World Cup. But it’s as likely to be in response to what he has found upon his arrival at United as on any other factor. Van Gaal professes that others must adapt to his philosophy – which suggests that he is wedded to a specific approach. That isn’t the case, though – what he means is that everyone has to sing off his hymn sheet, whichever one he deems most appropriate at the time.
At United he has found (in his own words) an unbalanced squad, with four forwards. He has also commented upon the team’s threadbare defence and the fact that there are several players best suited to the number 10 role. In press conferences on tour he has made clear his intention to adopt the 3-4-1-2 formation he has used in America. That is an even more radical change than from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3. United are at least familiar with a 4-3-3, a shape adopted by Sir Alex to counter specific opponents from time to time. At least one commentator has stated that this change in approach is the most radical change in our tactical approach since Tommy Docherty’s change to a 4-2-4 in the 1970 s.
United must learn to defend with a back three and adapt to the use of wing-backs. Success this season may depend on how well and quickly the team can implement Van Gaal’s lessons and make his approach work. He has stated that he is training the players’ brains as much as he is training their bodies; he is a coach who values Football intelligence. Clearly the squad will have to learn these lessons or van Gaal will replace them. (He is likely to prune and buy to some extent anyway). But it has been refreshing so far to see how keen to adapt the squad appears. Players appear to have realised quite quickly that they have to buy into the new coach’s methods; their future at United depends upon it or there will be even more changes ahead.
He has also suggested that the use of a 4-3-3 is a possible alternative if things don’t go well.