Buy or bust

New Manchester United coach Louis Van Gaal speaks during a press conference at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on July 22, 2014 ahead of a training session by the English Premirr League side who will play Major League Soccer's LA Galaxy with van Gaal at the helm for the first time on July 23.

Louis van Gaal doesn't just attend press conferences. He conducts them. He waves an imaginary baton and forces audiences to dance to his tune.

Watching his interviews in the World Cup was like being Mike Myers in Wayne's World, bowing at the feet of Alice Cooper and repeatedly chanting: "We're not worthy. We're not worthy."

With his imposing stature, the Manchester United manager projects the image of a sporting icon.

Even his back-combed Elvis quiff adds to his height and overbearing presence. He's a king holding court. And he leaves the rest of us playing court jesters.

Only van Gaal could get away with the outlandish claim yesterday morning (Singapore time) that he was so impressed with his squad that he may not need further reinforcements.

"We still have a month to go (before the transfer window shuts) and we are winning. Maybe we don't need other players," the United manager said, while presumably stifling a giggle.

"First, I want to see the players who I have and give them an honest chance."

At most press conferences last season, David Moyes said something similar. He was laughed out of the club.


But delivery is everything. Wide-eyed and jittery, Moyes always presented himself like the roadie who inadvertently steps onto U2's stage to fix a cable and the crowd go nuts thinking Bono has made his grand entrance. But he's just a temporary imposter. He doesn't belong and he knows it.

Van Gaal, on the other hand, leaves self-doubt to others. His sense of entitlement can be overwhelming.

After managing Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax, he hints at his own infallibility. He can do no wrong.

No one at the World Cup sold a line better than the mischievous van Gaal, but even the supreme salesman can't sell this whopper. His team sheet speaks louder than his latest bluff.

He isn't done in the transfer market. He's barely started.

A studious manager who devours minutiae and leaves nothing to chance (not even a goalkeeping substitution in the final seconds of Holland's critical World Cup quarter-final) cannot miss the glaring flaw in his latest masterplan.

He has installed HD cameras at the Carrington training ground to analyse every player's movement.

In a bid to end cultural cliques, he has ordered players to speak only in English and eat together at round tables, rather than long, rectangular tables that encourage isolation and new pitches have been laid to improve first touches. Even trees were planted to stabilise wind conditions.

The control freak has micro-managed all aspects of a United footballer's daily life to maximise performance.

But he still lacks the personnel to implement his preferred tactical template.

Green windbreakers might improve the aesthetic ambience at training ground, but they won't win trophies beyond the local horticultural club.

Van Gaal's insistence on a 3-5-2 formation realistically means a back three of Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling sitting behind a holding duo of possibly Ander Herrera and Darren Fletcher with the inexperienced Luke Shaw and the erratic Antonio Valencia cast as the lung-busting wingmen.

This article was published on Aug 3 in The New Paper.

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Magic Wand

Juan Mata brings the magic wand. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie bring home the booty.

The line-up looks flimsy even on paper.

Last season, the back three conspired to produce more headaches for Moyes than a pneumatic drill outside his office window, blundering around the box in a successful effort to make the departing Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand seem irreplaceable.

Fletcher's fitness remains an issue and the dictionary definition of "mercurial" includes a photo of Valencia. Shaw was ready to play Boy Wonder, but van Gaal now needs a superhero after Patrice Evra's sudden departure and Mata craves a creative makeover to recapture his vibrant youth.

If van Gaal can sense the wind in training, he'll feel the draught in the dressing room.

At the very least, United will continue their pursuit of Thomas Vermaelen, if Mats Hummels cannot be tempted, along with a fullback and possibly another defensive midfielder.

Holland's unexpected run to the semi-final depended on an obdurate defence, a couple of midfield limpets and the ability to counter-attack spectacularly through Arjen Robben. Dramatic bursts of pace drive van Gaal's 3-5-2.

But United are heavy on Wile E. Coyotes and light on roadrunners.

With his spectacular quiff, van Gaal is the big hare among tortoises. But slow and steady will not win this particular race.


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