He advised him not to. Louis van Gaal, one of the most successful Dutch trainers of all time, did not think that Erik ten Hag, the success coach of Ajax, should start working at Manchester United.
After all, United is no longer a football club, but a commercial party, the national coach ruled. And he can know. Eight years ago, Van Gaal started the mission to bring United back to the top.
Exactly the same assignment as Ten Hag in 2022. But the road to the top turns out to be a bumpy one, full of pitfalls and sharp bends. The disastrous start of Ten Hag – after two painful defeats last in the Premier League – is in everything reminiscent of the first months of Van Gaal.
Two weeks ago I was the king, but now I am already the devil of Manchester.
He too had high expectations. He also wanted to innovate, but did not see the world stars coming he wanted. He also had a good preparation, followed by a bad start. And he, too, was soon under pressure.
Our hearts beat with anticipation
The colour Red. The sheer size of the canvas. Those arms, wide in the air. The exuberant smile. And of course the text. Everything about the mega banner in Manchester city center is good. Van Gaal receives a warm welcome. Much is expected of him.
The trainer, already signed by United for the World Cup, is seen as a magician. Under his leadership, a mediocre selection of the Dutch national team achieves World Cup bronze. Reigning champions Spain is crushed 5-1, host country Brazil goes down 3-0.
This is the man who will get United – who finished seventh under David Moyes the season before and therefore did not reach European football – again, they think.
Toast with Ferguson
“We always did the lights out with a glass of wine,” says Van Gaal about his bond with club icon Sir Alex Ferguson. The two know each other from UEFA meetings, where they enjoyed a glass of wine late into the night.
The voice of Ferguson, the most successful manager ever at Manchester United with 38 awards in 25 years, is one that counts at the club. Confidence in Van Gaal is also great from the Scot, so it can’t be that either.
2014: high expectations at Van Gaal presentation in Manchester
Two (!) days after the successful World Cup with Orange, Van Gaal is already starting his latest and most challenging job. “This club has big ambitions, just like me.”
“I am sure that we will write history”, says the Dutchman, who signs for three seasons and receives about 8.5 million euros per year for this.
Error-free practice campaign
Van Gaal, against his will, flies to the US for a lucrative practice campaign. With a selection without World Cup attendees like Robin van Persie, Manchester United immediately starts the new era with a prize.
In the final of the International Champions Cup, Liverpool will be defeated at the Sun Life Stadium in Florida, after Van Gaal’s team has also won against LA Galaxy, AS Roma, Internazionale and Real Madrid. The omens are excellent.
2014: Van Gaal debuts at United with a seven-time hit in America
“Louis van Gaal has to adapt to this big club, but I think this big club also has to adapt to Louis van Gaal,” the trainer said in a characteristic way. His influence extends far beyond the ninety minutes of a match.
At the training complex in Carrington, Van Gaal has a row of trees planted to provide more shelter. He also has cameras placed everywhere along the training field to follow the movements of players even better.
There will be light poles to be able to train in the evening. The dining tables also have to believe it. The rectangular ones are exchanged for round tables to promote conversations between players.
Van Gaal has to make do with his B-choices
Van Gaal also knows that the squad needs a quality boost to get back to the top. His wish list consists of stars such as Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski, Neymar, Thomas Müller, Sergio Ramos and Mats Hummels.
One by one, the club management is unable to capture the top players. Instead, Van Gaal has to make do with defenders Marcus Rojo (20 million from Portugal’s Sporting) and Daley Blind (18 million, Ajax) and striker Radamel Falcao, who is hired from AS Monaco.
For striker Angel Di Maria, 75 million is transferred to Real Madrid, at that time the highest transfer fee of all time in the Premier League. Large investments for second choices.
After a strong preparation with only victories, Van Gaal starts the Premier League with a home game against Swansea City. The cheers are deafening as the Dutchman walks to his place at Old Trafford.
Ninety minutes later the singing from the branch that sounds the loudest is in the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, where the visitors go home with a 2-1 victory. “You’re getting sacked in the morning, You’re getting sacked in the morning!” Swansea supporters sing. In other words, you will be fired tomorrow morning.
One round later. Can United recover from the false start? The big windfall is that Van Persie is back and in the starting line-up. But United do not impress with him either. At Sunderland, the team does not go further than a 1-1 draw.
‘Game of Shame’
United fail again. And to think that the biggest disgrace is yet to come, two days later. ‘Game of Shame’ is headlined in the British press after the third match led by Van Gaal.
The club from Manchester is beaten 4-0 in the League Cup by MK Dons, which plays at the third level. A huge downfall.
Leading betting firm William Hill lowers the odds from 66-1 to 12-1 on “Van Gaal is the next manager to be fired from the Premier League”.
“Two weeks ago I was still the king, but now I am already the devil of Manchester,” concludes the protagonist himself.
Not a successful marriage
Van Gaal would survive, but a successful marriage will never be between him and Manchester United. In his first season he finished fourth, in the second year fifth.
He did win the FA Cup in May 2016. Van Gaal was fired two days later.