When Louis van Gaal received his first managerial role in 1991, he told the club director: “Congratulations on signing the best coach in the world." He was not managing Holland's equivalent of East Stirlingshire or a B team, but Ajax, the biggest club in Holland and three times European champions. By the time he left Amsterdam six years later, Van Gaal had added a fourth European Cup to the trophy cabinet.
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Arrogant, argumentative and, sometimes, downright offensive, Van Gaal is exactly what Manchester United need. Like David Moyes, he is neither the supporters' preferred man nor the best man for the job, but he is ideal.
A disciple of total football who has nurtured some wonderful talents ranging from Patrick Kluivert to Xavi to Andrés Iniesta, he has won titles wherever he has managed and his 62 years should be viewed as a benefit, rather than a hindrance.
"What we've got is a winner," Sir Alex Ferguson proclaimed three days after David Moyes was confirmed as his successor. Moyes has not won a major trophy in his career whereas Van Gaal brought honours to clubs as illustrious as Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. His stints at the latter two ended acrimoniously, yet he not only succeeded in Catalonia and Bavaria, but he left a legacy which allowed those clubs to thrive, which cannot be said of Ferguson.
Moyes should never have been considered to manage United, let alone given the role, but once he upgraded from a yacht to a cruise liner, he did not change. United suffered from his Evertonian standards and, unsurprisingly, they failed to win at Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal and finished outside of the top seven. He was not only dithering, but diplomatic.
This United squad is one of the most unlikeable in living memory. Ridden with wantaways, upstarts and the avaricious, they must be prepared for a culture shock when Van Gaal arrives at the Carrington training ground in July. When he was introduced to a teenage Gerard Piqué at Barcelona by the defender's grandfather, formerly a club director, he pushed him over without warning.
"You're too weak to be a Barcelona defender," Van Gaal sneered. The same could be said of several in the current United squad.
There are too many comfortable cowards. Roy Keane, wont to pouring petrol, rather than water, onto a fire, at least demanded the mythical 110%. The shambolic Darren Fletcher, however, said in February "the midfield players at this club, especially in the last few years, have probably gone unnoticed," even though this is the worst midfield since the club were relegated in 1974. He added "getting on the ball, creating and scoring goals... is not really our role." He can consider himself culled.
Tom Cleverley, who has not played well enough since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, complained he had "been made a scapegoat a little bit". It was deserved. There are, feasibly, 16 players Van Gaal should sanction the sale of, and while the rebuilding job will have to be gradual, to an extent, only a handful of players, such as David de Gea, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie, are assured of remaining at Old Trafford.
Supporters appalled by Wayne Rooney's second pay rise for flirting with a rival club will relish Van Gaal's arrival. Van Persie's Pravda pledge before the March defeat to Liverpool only clarified he had doubts about prolonging his career at United, but he enjoys a close bond with Van Gaal and that could marginalise Rooney, who exploited Moyes and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward's indulgence. Former Bayern striker Luca Toni said Van Gaal "treats players like interchangeable objects" and Rooney should not expect the mollycoddling treatment he craves.
Whereas Moyes was accused of lacking them, Van Gaal has literally proven he has balls. Toni once recalled Van Gaal disrobed in front of Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm to show he was prepared to drop any of them.
"The coach wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player, it was all the same to him because, as he said, he had the balls," Toni said. "He demonstrated this literally (by dropping his trousers). I have never experienced anything like it, it was totally crazy. Luckily I didn't see a lot, because I wasn't in the front row."
Appointing Ryan Giggs as his assistant will placate United supporters. Although Van Gaal risks being usurped by his No.2 if he fails to halt United's decline, he is one of the few personalities in football who can withstand such pressure and retain control. Moyes, about as charismatic as Michael Carrick during an interview, never seemed in control. Undermined by players, even when he punished one young player for leaking the starting line-up at Aston Villa, Moyes' selections still found their way onto Twitter.
Van Gaal will, in his own inimitable way, handle the media with greater ease than Moyes, who portrayed United as plucky underdogs instead of a footballing behemoth. "Try" was his favourite verb, he "aspired" to be like Manchester City and said United "really enjoyed" playing in the Champions League, a competition they featured in for 18 successive seasons until he took over the reins.
"That is a stupid question," Van Gaal responded when asked for his thoughts on United two weeks ago. "I think it's a stupid question. Because they are the biggest club in the world. 'What do you know about Manchester United?' I'm sorry," he laughed.
Hated, adored, but never ignored, United need no introduction, and neither does Van Gaal.