The list of big-name players and coaches that have had problems with Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal is pretty long. In fact, the Daily Mirror went so far as to compile a list of well-regarded names that have publicly aired their disputes with the Dutch tactician; it includes the likes of former Barcelona greats Johann Cruyff, Rivaldo, Hristo Stoitchkov and Ronald Koeman, and, more recently, Angel Di Maria, Rafael, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, and compatriot Robin van Persie, all formerly of Manchester United.
According to reports appearing Thursday in both The Sun and The Times (via ESPN), the latter former United stars, who all left Old Trafford during the summer transfer window, are not alone in having differences with Van Gaal: apparently, a group of senior United players approached the Dutchman earlier this season expressing concern that his methods are too “rigid” and do not allow them to express themselves. Among the chief complaints were an overall “lack of creativity" and a general concern that "training orders have become so inflexible that they are hampering performances."
Additionally, The Sun reported that certain senior players are angry with Van Gaal’s treatment of goalkeeper David De Gea during his botched transfer to Real Madrid.
To be sure, former United players like Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville -- who all won several trophies at the club under legendary coach Sir Alex Ferguson -- have been highly critical of United’s performances under the Dutchman.
Asked about the differences between Van Gaal and Ferguson's philosophies, Ferdinand, who left Old Trafford during the Dutchman’s first summer in charge in 2014, told the Irish Examiner: "Everything. In terms of players, the personnel are completely different, and the way they play. You associate Man United with pace and power, explosive fantasy in the final third, but that's not the way it is now…You're not going to see what you saw for the last 25 years. It will be a completely different type of football -- not football I enjoy watching as much and probably most Man United fans are like that.” He noted that Van Gaal’s possession style is "methodical and really slow going side to side whereas before it was 'bang, go,’” adding that he doesn’t expect his former team to win either the Premier League or the UEFA Champions League this season.
Van Gaal’s response to such criticism? "It makes me sick because they should know that it takes time."
Indeed, Mr. van Gaal, it absolutely does take time. In fact, it took Ferguson exactly four full seasons to win his first title with Man United (the FA Cup in 1989-90) and seven seasons to win his first league title (in 1992-93). The rest, of course, is history.
Unfortunately for Mr. Van Gaal, he doesn’t have that kind of time. After all, before this season even started, the 64-year-old told reporters that his current deal with United would be his last as a professional coach. Well, he’s already in year two of a three-year deal, so his methods better bear some kind of fruit soon. If they do not, then, really what is the point of employing him as a coach at all?
Van Gaal is a notorious my-way-or-the-highway-type figure, which is partly why he has made so many enemies over the years. He has certainly been successful, notably at Ajax in the early-to-mid 90s and Barcelona soon thereafter, but he has also had disappointing spells, including a second term at Barcelona as well as a first spell in charge of the Netherlands in the early 2000s.
In other words, his style is not for everyone. Obviously, it is a very troubling sign indeed that senior United players have approached the Dutchman so early in his second season complaining about his methods. Of course, with a few strong results, this could all die down, but if it gets any worse, United will be left to count the cost of crippling damage.
Why? Because here you have the most storied club in the history of English soccer going through a wrenching change of philosophy in order to accommodate a manager who won’t be in charge for very much longer. If United comes up empty this season, you have to imagine that whomever succeeds Van Gaal -- i.e. assistant coach Ryan Giggs -- will be left to pick up the pieces, and a betting man would say that the Welshman is more likely to take the club through another wrenching change back the style of former hero Sir Alex Ferguson than persist with the philosophy of the (heretofore unpopular) Dutchman.
With that in mind, it all looks a bit precarious for the great club.