Louis Van Gaal & The Absence of Happiness

Louis Van Gaal finds himself under immense pressure from the Manchester United fan base as the leader of one of the largest clubs in all of sports. Man U have struggled to find their feet since the departure of their stalwart manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Since then, United fans have struggled to embrace either of the ensuing managerial options with David Moyes lasting just 10 months at the helm and Louis Van Gaal under fire from supporters, the media, and his own players at the start of his second full season at the helm.

Traditionally, Manchester United have boasted a workmanlike, hard-nosed attitude that has come from home-bred players via the Manchester United youth system incubating the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Phil Neville. Throughout the process, Ferguson was able to instil a deep-rooted culture whereby the squad continually achieved great success irrespective of who he called upon each week.

Louis Van Gaal has implemented an entirely different strategy, akin to that of rivals Chelsea and Manchester City, as he has forked out the big bucks to acquire a plethora of big-name European prospects. The shift in culture has come with a hefty price tag, as well as a new and unfamiliar finesse playing style.

This shift has led to a noticeable lack of harmony and familiarity among the Manchester United players. The tangible impact can be seen in the performance of the players as well as the tensions Van Gaal has put on display in his press conferences.

The transfer saga surrounding goalkeeper David De Gea, who was heavily linked with a return to Spain to join Real Madrid, serves as a microcosm for the general attitude of the Man U players.  The ordeal brought to light issues of poor chemistry within the Red Devils’ locker room with De Gea, arguably their best player last season, wanting away from the English giant. A fee for the Spaniard was agreed to by Real Madrid only to have the deal controversially collapse on deadline day. The latest news is that he has agreed to a new 4 year contract to stay in Manchester United in an unexpected change of heart.

The spending spree that Van Gaal has been afforded by the United Executives was intended to invigorate an upturn for the club. In his short tenure, Van Gaal has seen several high profile players leave in turmoil with Angel Di Maria being sold at a deficit after just one failed season at Old Trafford. Additionally, Van Gaal has seen the departure of notable United favourites Robin Van Persie, Chicharito and Rafael as well as loaning out Adnan Januzaj who is one of the few goal scorers for Van Gaal this season.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, exiled Chicharito declared “I want to go back to feeling important and happy. I want to find happiness. Bayer made me feel important and loved and coming here was not a difficult decision to make. They made me feel wanted.”

Happiness is an important concept for any locker room. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho claimed that ‘happiness’ saved John Terry’s career during his 2014/15 rejuvenation. “The most important part of everything is to be happy. I once read about a famous neurologist who said: ‘We docs always say to people to exercise, eat properly, be careful with salt and protein, but we forget to tell people to be happy.’ I think John is this.”  Contrast that with reports circulating surrounding frustration from key United players towards the training schedule, the rigidity of the system, as well as their manager’s dismissal of players without fair reason. The picture looks bleak unless Van Gaal can muster a way to turn the tides.

Van Gaal has a track record of success with big clubs helping him earn his place as the manager of a Premier League giant. His employers were also comfortable giving him a huge amount of cash to spend during his tenure in charge. Managerial pressure tends to ramp up when positive results are scarce, but it is the performance of the Red Devils thus far this season that is the true indicator of locker room unrest. Van Gaal has the capacity to turn things around in Manchester, but with their cross town rivals, City, clicking on all cylinders, the results will have to come in soon. With a high profile fixture against an equally flailing Liverpool outfit in the offing, a positive result will certainly afford the Dutchman some breathing room. If, however, the struggles continue, there may be an ugly break up on horizon, as previous manager David Moyes can attest to.

4 0