Football scouting blog

Louis Van Gaal’s “philosophy” – Is it good for Manchester United ?

Louis Van Gaal’s philosophy

Louis Van Gaal made his reputation of “master tactician” during his early years as manager. When he completely revolutionised certain positions on the football pitch, such as the centre-backs being regarded as the first playmakers on the pitch, and less emphasis on the number 10 or attacking midfielder to be the main creator for the forwards. As a manager, he has always made sure his teams played possession based football and maintained their positional discipline throughout the full match. His playing style continued on the development of his Dutch predecessors of increased emphasis on technique and intelligence in players over physicality. He increased the emphasis on possession in his playing style and he believed with that along with the trusting in youth players were the key elements to success. To this day, he champions his ideals and highlights that they are more than just what happens on the field; its also a personal and mental development of the players and often refers to this as his “philosophy”.

In his own words, he states, “It’s not only a mode of play, it’s the way we are treating players, the way we are building up training sessions, the way we have to do our rehabilitation, the process, the steps that you have to make, it’s a lot of things… But one of the most important things is I’m seeing the players not only as football players but as human beings.” As a manager, Louis Van Gaal is stubborn in his ways and refuses to change his “philosophy” despite the ever changing game of football. An issue, that Louis Van Gaal has struggled with since the turn of the millennium, and now his once revolutionary ideals are now common practice in every top football club. It has to be said before continuing that a playing style or formation is not the “philosophy”, as a lot of football fans seem to believe, but its just an aspect of a collection of ideals and ways of doing things that make up a footballing “philosophy”.

Van Gaal’s philosophy vs Manchester United.

Currently, a worldwide debate has been going on between Manchester United fans, about the team’s playing style under Louis Van Gaal. A lot of fans and pundits worldwide have been criticising and questioning Van Gaal’s “philosophy”, and the little impact it has had on the Manchester United’s current plight. The fact that a lot of top clubs in the world, especially the ones he previously managed such as Barcelona, Ajax and FC Bayern Munich, now implement some version of his once unique philosophy, it has now become harder to distinguish the difference between the top teams and find what particularly makes them unique, their “DNA” – a trait every elite club like Manchester United should have. Where other top teams like FC Barcelona, with their incisive one touch football, FC Bayern Munich, with its dangerous wing play and Ajax versatility with all its players, have put their own stamp to LVG’s philosophy to create their own “DNA”. Manchester United have found themselves trapped in a scenario were they lack a distinctive characteristic like these teams.

In his short time at Manchester United, Van Gaal has ruthlessly restructured and rebuilt the clubs’ future from top to bottom which has involved a lot of dismantling and departures of the old players who were so successful under Sir Alex Ferguson. And in with the new more technical players, who can adapt to his philosophy quicker and the potential of Louis Van Gaal’s philosophy in the long-term has not gone unnoticed by some fans. As United Fan states;

“…. It’s possible that when we look back at his reign we will appreciate how well he very quickly dismantled and built a team..ruling so ruthless and laying foundations that will bare fruits for years”

Embed from Getty Images

The United Way?

Still the debate rages on, Manchester United were once seen as the team that would play fast-paced wing play with relentless waves of attacks which usually lead to high scoring games and a lot of last minute winners. The issue with this is, although this was the perceived playing style or characteristic of Manchester United prior to Louis Van Gaal arrival. The reality was very different because his predecessors, the long serving manager Sir Alex Ferguson, never had a set way of playing in his 26 year reign and also his successor David Moyes. They mostly changed their playing style to counter their oppositions, from defensive counter attacking football, possession based football to relentless attacks through the wingers which would alternate from game to game. As krs1979 states;

“So what is this United way?I only ask because after watching the club for over 30 years I have seen many different football styles or are people referring to a time under SAF that was score more goals than the opposition. SAF set up his team many different ways, some over defensive, so overly attacking. Ronny Johnsen, Phil Neville man marking in midfield anyone.”

In my opinion, “the United way” was more of a mentality than an actual playing style, it was a desire to be the best and never, ever give up no matter what. And it was instilled in every player from top players to the fringe players and even the academy players.

Loss of identity

However, with that said many Manchester United fans have grown tired of watching their team play this Dutch based possession football. The trend in a majority of all top clubs nowadays is to play some version of this and this has lead to the club being in somewhat of an identity crisis. Some of the supporters and fans are concerned about the aesthetic of the play on field, as prominent user of the Manchester United forum unitedtheball states:

“…The philosophy is just that , an idea , when it goes wrong there is no ‘instinct’ , too many passes , too few chances .. In Fergies time when we went behind I used to think … oh good , now we will go up a gear , and beat them .. now though we only seem to have 2 gears at most.

Louis Van Gaal’s philosophy at Manchester United has lost its uniqueness and many clubs have discovered ways to counter its threats in games. In the current climate, he is no longer the trend setter he was in the 1990s and because of this it has sometimes lead to Manchester United playing style under his reign to be at times sterile and predictable.

 Final thoughts
So in terms of whether or not Van Gaal’s philosophy is good for Manchester United, is open to debate but I do see the pros and cons of his short reign at Manchester. The club prior to Louis Van Gaal played and won trophies with passion and hard work but never had a consistent way of playing, so although the slow paced possession football Manchester United currently occupy under Louis Van Gaal is sterile and predictable. It is a consistent style and can be seen as a base or foundation to which to work on. And maybe in future “the United way” would be more than a mentality but also a visible playing style like the likes of FC Bayern Munich “Gegenpressing” and dangerous wing play and FC Barcelona’s “Tiki taka”.



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This entry was posted on October 12, 2015 by in Tactical Analysis and tagged , , , , , , .
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