After Sir Alex: Van Gaal leads out Manchester United for his first game as manager

Louis van Gaal
The match [July 23rd, 2014] is a ‘meaningless’ friendly in Los Angeles. Or is it so meaningless?

Louis van Gaal arrives as manager at Manchester United Football Club after managing Holland in the recent World Cup in Brazil. He joins a club suffering a severe dip in performance following the departure of the iconic Sir Alex Ferguson, who is widely credited with the record-breaking successes of the club in recent decades.

Van Gaal’s reputation as a leading manager has been established in a string of successes at the top European clubs. After Sir Alex, his own selected successor and fellow Scot, David Moyes, lasted less than the season, as results declined disastrously.

In the recent World Cup, Van Gaal reinforced his reputation as a tough but creative manager of the Netherlands’ [Holland’s] national side. For example, he came up with an incredible and pre-planned decision to substitute his first choice-goal keeper in extra time to bring on one better able to win the imminent penalty shoot-out.

First impressions at MUFC

Within days of Holland’s departures from the World Cup, their new manager arrives at Manchester United. There followed a few days of intense image management, reinforcing his image as a dominating personality who expects to get his own way on as many matters as possible.

MUFC fans largely approved of this, [call-in messages at the club’s TV station MUTV] as it was a style for which Alex Ferguson was recognized and feared.

The pre-season tour

Within a week, the squad had left for the pre-season tour of North America, van Gaal grumbling about excessive traveling which was a disruption to pre-season preparations. He said such arrangements would not happen again on his watch.

Reconstruction of the club

On van Gaal’s arrival, funds withheld from Moyes were released by the owners and board to strengthen the team. New players were acquired seen as the quality needed to address weaknesses in defense and midfield.

The LA Galaxy game

The first pre-season game was against LA Galaxy, a club with prior connections with MUFC, through the recently-retired David Beckham. The match was switched to the Pasadena Rose-bowl to accommodate the interest it attracted. A near-capacity 86,000 fans watched the game.

The American team, half-way through its season, was expected to be match fit. This did not make much difference in the first half. United, playing a new attacking formation, were lively and effective, scoring three unanswered goals.

The new manager had made it clear he would be assessing all players before completing his summer transfers. At half-time, as agreed for the fixture, large numbers of changes were made in each team. The United squad players brought on were more successful than their Galaxy counterparts,and scored a further four goals unanswered.

Final score: Los Angeles Galaxy 0 Manchester United 7. The Van Gaal managerial regime could hardly have started better.

Leadership reflections

The new manager has a direct – some would say brutal – style which seems designs to overwhelm all opposing views. His history of success with his teams has been accompanied with confrontations with players and with influential figures in clubs he worked in. He wins respect and makes enemies. The style can be found in many business and sporting leaders. In his encounters with the press, the style does have resemblance to that of Sir Alex Ferguson who could be famously (or infamously) combative.

There is something vaguely Machiavellian in the public persona which may be designed to rule through fear rather than being judged weak.

3 Responses to After Sir Alex: Van Gaal leads out Manchester United for his first game as manager

  1. says:

    Basically leadership style is born with each one, though certain traits can be acquired later, this does not have an fundamental change to the personality. So to be effective leader, he should choose a suitable team. On the other side of the coin, the team / organization is also choosing its leader. Not good match and then move on and try a new one – good for both sides.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. The case you put forward is quite popular. It captures a trait-based view of leadership. In the book Dilemmas of Leadership, I argue differently, following the notion that traits are stable personality features, genetically shaped; styles are more fluid and easier to influence consciously. The leadership ‘born or made’ debate is a special case of the ‘nature nurture’ one. I take a ‘both and’ position.

    In practice, styles become habits acted out. It would be difficult to test your suggestion of a rather easy transition from one style to another. But this seems to be implied by the situational leadership trainers.

  3. Ali Al-Hassen says:

    Very interesting post …

    In my opinion, I don’t call LVG a brutal leader, from the way he showed interacting with his players, laughing, cheering others and the informal style. Brutal leaders are dictators who have different characteristics mainly based on the way they look, and how rude and bold should be – while dealing with their followers or even others and media.

    I see “The Skilled Theory of Leadership” is more fitting his style. He learned a lot throughout his sport related journey – he keeps adding to his profile and being wealth in experiencing and reacting to different situations and circumstances. From what he learned he gains the respect and power to lead.

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