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

July 24, 2014

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.


Who owns Old Trafford?

August 1, 2013

Who owns the iconic Old Trafford football stadium, home to Manchester United Football Club? A council decision raises complex legal issues

The legal answer is the Glazer family following a controversial takeover in 2005.  However, Manchester United Supporters Trust [MUST]  have been granted rights at Old Trafford stadium if the club is ever sold, through a ruling of the local council.

An Asset of Community Value

This ruling classes the ground as an Asset Of Community Value. Unsurprisingly, the current owners of the club anticipate legal implications in the ruling. For example, would a decision to change the club’s name to strengthen its financial position be affected? Would the value in a future sale be influenced?

To the non-legal eye

To the non-legal eye, it all looks rather peculiar. The Trust talks of representing ‘the fans’. I can see the symbolic weight in this. But wait a minute. A few months ago, figures were published claiming a measurable proportion of the World’s population could be classed as Manchester United fans. It could be argued that The Supporters Trust represents millions of fans world wide, or maybe only its signed-up members.

No trivial issue

This is no trivial issue. In the UK at the moment, The Trades Union movement is currently embroiled in a debate regarding the rights they have over the Labour Party, though the individual subscriptions of its members, its block votes representing those member at Labour Party conferences, and its influence over the political policies of The Labour Party. Much politicking is taking place over the rights of individual members (some who are not Labour supporters) to opt out of the political levy included in the existing arrangements.

Which brings us back to Manchester United, its fans, and its legal owners.

Squatters rights and just cause

Another lens through which to examine the story: Various cases have been tested in court throughout the years over squatters rights and tenants rights. Common law principles are often evoked. The cases can become highly fraught, as the parties of weaker power resort to increasingly illegal methods outside the courtrooms, acting in what the individuals under threat believe to be on behalf of a just cause.

Which makes for good newspaper stories. Sometimes victory goes to the just, although more often to the powerful.