By Oli Platt
Sitting underneath a photograph of himself gazing into the distance that resembled a cover of TIME magazine, Louis van Gaal attempted to persuade the gathered media that his management style was, above all, “democratic”.
It was perhaps the only occasion during his first press conference as Manchester United manager that he convinced no one in the room.
As you imagine will be the case when it comes to day-to-day club operations, Van Gaal was in total control.
This is a manager utterly convinced of his own ability, in no doubt that he is about to make a serious impact on a fourth club of enormous and, to some that have gone before him, intimidating size.
“I have never worked in the Premier League so it’s a big challenge,” he said. “In my time at Barcelona I think the Spanish league was the best league. In my time at Bayern Munich I think the German league was the best league. Maybe when I work here, the Premier League will be the best league.”
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Van Gaal spoke of filling Sir Alex Ferguson’s shoes but there was little mention of the man he is actually succeeding. David Moyes was unveiled little over a year ago and the contrast in his approach to his first United press conference compared to Van Gaal’s was marked.
A few weeks back, the Dutch newspaper NRC published a list of ten warnings for English journalists when asking questions of Van Gaal. Point seven read: “Don’t repeat the question. Never mind – you will fail at this. You won’t fool him, even if you think your follow-up question is a cleverly rephrased, well-disguised one. He’ll say: ‘I just told you’. This is inevitable.”
It was prophetic. The very first question asked of Van Gaal concerned his expectations for the season ahead - what would he bring to the job in his debut campaign? “I will do my best and that’s what I can give,” he said. “I cannot give predictions because you never know.”
Unperturbed by his refusal to commit to a concrete target at that point, another journalist asked a similar question a couple of minutes later. The answer was brief. “That’s always the question,” he replied, uninterested. “That’s what I have explained already.” And that was that.
Moyes was far more accommodating and willing to specify goals. “I know what I've got and I know the job in hand but I am sure when Sir Alex Ferguson took over he knew the job in hand too,” he said in 2013.
“But he has left me a squad that is capable of winning the Premier League title. This club is about winning trophies. I'm driven to try and succeed, I'm determined to get the first one on the board.”
That the Dutchman came across as the more defiant and convincing is paradoxical in some ways, because Moyes was the manager willing to set the bar high and place immediate pressure on himself. Van Gaal insisted he would need to be given time to implement his own philosophy.
But that speaks to the CV the latter has built; Moyes knew that he would need to pick up where Ferguson left off to convince those who doubted him.
“I worked for Barcelona, in my opinion the No.1 club in Spain; Ajax, the No.1 in the Netherlands, and Bayern Munich, the No.1 in Germany,” Van Gaal explained. “Now I am at Manchester United, No.1 in England.”
Unlike Moyes, Van Gaal can simply point to his medals.