Jan Molby

The Man Utd identity crisis Louis van Gaal must solve

Jan Molby

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The biggest, most pressing issue Louis van Gaal must address as he takes charge of Manchester United is one of identity.

When Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge it was a given that United possessed a distinct identity that you could readily associate with them, but last year, under David Moyes, they lost that and now they approach the new season without a clear style.

We have no idea how they are going to play; the style and formation United will adopt are currently mysteries to us all. So that must be Van Gaal’s main job, and I believe it is a task he will take on quickly. Even in the first 10 days, he will work out what approach is best suited to this group of players.


But his overall approach is certainly compatible with United’s historic identity of playing attractive football while using young players. Their allure has been dented in the past 12 months – with that focus on crossing - but Van Gaal needs to re-establish a reputation for style and, if he does, the fans will love him for it.

I don’t think we can identify too many clues in Netherlands’ displays at the World Cup. Unusually, Van Gaal went with three centre-halves but that was an attempt to bring the best out of Ron Vlaar, who has struggled in a back four due to his lack of mobility but thrived in a back three and became one of the stars of the World Cup.

That is Van Gaal’s big strength: he finds ways to bring the best of players and improve them within a coherent system. Look at what he did at Bayern Munich in transforming Bastian Schweinsteiger from a winger to a central midfield player. I think there will be a few players at Manchester United who find they have different roles this season.

In terms of what success represents for Van Gaal at Manchester United, I think they have to take it one step at a time, but the immediate target has to be a return to the top four.

It was the lack of Champions League football which cost David Moyes his job. Van Gaal has to restore them to that level and I don’t think that winning a trophy in his first season will be absolutely essential for the Dutchman.

Van Gaal needs to give the sense that things are getting better, that quick progress is being made. That is more essential at this stage than anything as tangible as a trophy. Van Gaal does make teams better, and the United hierarchy will want to see progress in effect. That means returning to the Champions League.


I think the Dutchman is a fantastic appointment and have said that all along. He is exactly what United need. If you have the best players you just let them play, and Manchester United have had that for many years. But they don’t any more, and now they need a manager who can improve what he has at his disposal.

But what you must do as a player is buy into his ideas. If you do, then you won’t have a problem, but there is no room for prima donnas. You are either on board 100% or your time at Manchester United is over.

There are rumours that Van Gaal is ready to axe around 10 players and he is not a big fan of big squads, so that makes sense, especially as he will be trying to bring some more in to add to Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera. Van Gaal wants youngsters and he is not scared of using them, so some of the older members of the squad could find their places under threat.

The United squad will be more in awe of Van Gaal than Moyes though, as players respect achievement in the game. They know what he has done in football and the clubs he has managed, whereas Moyes did not command the same level of respect.

When he was AZ Alkmaar coach he was going to resign but the players begged him to stay on and they won the league the next season. It would not surprise me if, rather quickly, the United players discover Van Gaal is their best asset as they seek to get back to the top.


People talk about Van Gaal’s ability to inspire and he is a great man manager, but he also excels tactically and technically and people who have worked under him say he is the best they have ever come across.

He knows what it takes to win games and is flexible with his approach. And a winning identity is what Manchester United need again.

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