Cold, rigid and exasperating – Louis van Gaal has been called all of them. Particularly after his arrival at Manchester United, the Dutchman has come under scrutiny for his peculiar man-management style. In the past few days the disgruntlement surrounding the team has been easily finding its way to the public light.
On Monday, former Manchester United and Real Madrid player Angel Di Maria confessed that his departure from Old Trafford toward Paris Saint-Germain had been caused in no small part by his tense relationship with the Dutchman.
“Some people get on fine, and for others it is harder to adapt. I didn’t get on very well with the coach, so I think the decision to join Paris was the best solution,” Di Maria told French newspaper Le Parisien.
Manchester United have shown some improvement this season, but they are still a long way from the elite level their fans were accustomed to in past years. And there are some who blame Van Gaal’s controversial methods for holding back the side.
But just how detrimental can the former Netherlands boss’ personality be?
According to several reports, very.
Just last week, English newspaper The Times reported that various key players were so unhappy that they had even confronted Van Gaal about his “rigid training methods” – a story that the Manchester Evening News corroborated and expanded by mentioning Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick as some of the aggrieved team members.
The Dutchman has denied any conflict with his squad. However, he didn’t do himself any favors on Sunday after Manchester United’s match against Liverpool, as he openly and controversially criticized fan-favorite David de Gea.
“As a manager you are never satisfied,” Van Gaal told Saturday Night Football. “The fans are very satisfied, the fans are very pleased with David de Gea for example, but I have a criticism for him and I am sorry I have to say that.”
“And that’s for all the players. I want to improve every individual, but because of that you also improve the team performance, which is what we are doing,” he added.
Those words might not be the end of the world, but they do seem pretty harsh for a top-quality player, who had been in the bench all season up until that game.
De Gea was almost transferred to Real Madrid during the past transfer window. Had it not been for a misunderstanding with the paperwork, he would probably be training at Santiago Bernabeu by now. But is also worth noting that the Spaniard is just another example of many.
Had De Gea completed his move away from Old Trafford, he would’ve only joined the ranks of Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie, all of which left Manchester feeling some degree of awkwardness in their relationship with Van Gaal.
It’s an issue that has been voiced around the soccer universe. During the last transfer window, Manchester United were reportedly very close to signing deals with Spanish winger Pedro and Argentine defender Nicolas Otamendi, but both players snubbed them at the last minute for close rivals Chelsea and Manchester City. And, according to reports, the prospect of working with Van Gaal might have had something to do with it.
In an interview, Pedro claimed that the coach hadn’t been the sole reason for his change of mind; however, he recognized that he had spoken to Valdes about the Dutchman and hadn’t gotten great reviews.
“(Valdes) told me it was a very good club with great supporters and the only problem was with the coach,” Pedro told Spanish newspaper Marca.
“It is true that I do not like the treatment of my (Spain) team-mates, especially Victor, who has been a reference for me and is a model professional,” he added.
Van Gaal, nonetheless, stands by his methods.
“(Improving) means a lot of meetings and a lot of training sessions. I have heard the words ‘boring’ and ‘too rigid’, but it is like that,” he said after the game against Liverpool.
And, after all, that is pretty much the only thing certain at this point. Van Gaal likely has some time left on his hands before his Manchester United adventure is over. While everything around him has the potential to change dramatically in that period, there is one thing that we can expect to – more than surely – remain the same: his resolve.
In the words of Manchester United legend Gary Neville:
The one thing you can be sure of as a Manchester United fan is that Louis van Gaal is sure of himself. That helps. The club should continue to get behind him. But it’s getting more difficult to ignore those flashing red lights.