By: Steve Mitchell
Return to the Champions League
When the 63-year-old Dutch coach walked through the doors at Old Trafford in July 2014, many felt he was the right man to take charge of a club still living in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson era which had brought unparalleled success to the red half of Manchester. His predecessor David Moyes had taken charge on the recommendation of Sir Alex but the job proved too big for this amiable Scotsman, ultimately destroyed by the huge media bubble that constantly surrounds one of the most famous football clubs in the world.
Incredibly United had no Champions League football to prepare for last summer and van Gaal’s remit was to make sure this would never happen again. He got them over the finishing line, just.Ending the season in fourth place means a nerve wracking August play-off to decide if the club that has been crowned kings of Europe on three previous occasions, will take centre stage in the 2015-16 tournament.
Big money signings
A Champions League winner himself back in 1995 with Ajax, van Gaal is already behind schedule at his current employers.Previous stints at Barcelona and Bayern Munich brought domestic championship success in his first season but signs that second season syndrome may help rather than hinder the imposing Dutchman look promising, thanks to the Glazer family and their bottomless pit of money available for transfers.
First in was 21-year-old Dutch striker Memphis Depay from PSV Eindhoven. Bought for a cool €27.5 million,he arrives with a CV packed full of goals, 34 in his previous two seasons in the Eredivisie. Tough tackling Italian defender Matteo Darmin has arrived from Torino for €18 million but it’s in the midfield area that van Gaal has really laid down a marker to the rest of the English Premiership.Within the space of just a few days he acquired highly rated French star Morgan Schneiderlin for €35 million and then incredibly managed to land Bayern Munich and German superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger for €18 million.
Edinson Cavani strongly linked
It looks like the spending won’t end there either. It is no secret that van Gaal needs another striker to replace Radamel Falcao who failed spectacularly at Old Trafford last season and has now joined Chelsea on loan. PSG front man Edinson Cavani seems to be the name on everyone’s lips as van Gaal looks to fit the final piece into his expensive new jigsaw.
During a long and often controversial career, van Gaal has never been slow in coming forward to voice his opinion. His press conferences are the stuff of legend but the brash cold exterior hides an intelligent football brain. He’s overseen huge changes at some of Europe’s biggest clubs and it seems working in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson stimulates rather than frightens this no nonsense Dutchman. Now he has “his” Manchester United almost in place but come May, the fans will expect to see silverware paraded around the Old Trafford pitch.