25th February 2016
One of Dutchman Louis Van Gaal’s first moves after being appointed manager of Manchester United was to install high security fencing around the outdoor pitches at the club’s Carrington training complex.
The decision was made with a number of considerations; apart from the security benefits of keeping out any intruders, Van Gaal wanted to create a buffer between United’s training ground activities and any potential spies from opposing teams, or newspaper photographers that may end up leaking tactical plans.
So, over six months later, can we say the plan has worked? There is no doubt that Van Gaal has pulled off some tactical masterstrokes during his tenure. In particular, the plan to put up and coming striker Marcus Rashford up against aging defender Martin Demichelis for the Manchester derby came up trumps, with the 18-year-old beating the Argentinian all ends up for pace. If somebody was able to peer over the security fencing and see United’s training in the build-up to the game, they didn’t do a very good job on that occasion.
In other situations, United have been found wanting tactically, and it has looked very likely that a spy of some sort has been privy to tactical work on the training pitch before games. Against Liverpool in the Europa League, for example, it seemed for all the world that the Merseysiders knew of Van Gaal’s plan to employ Marouane Fellaini as a roving midfield player, as they exploited the gaps left by the under par Belgian perfectly.
With many tipping Van Gaal to end his stint as manager in the summer, possibly making way for Jose Mourinho, it remains to be seen how his legacy at United will be remembered. There is no doubt, however, that Van Gaal has proven himself to be a bold decision maker, not willing to bow to media perceptions or even the wishes of the fans in many cases. This was exemplified early on by his decision to install the perimeter fencing at Carrington. While many coaches would have been happy to ‘get their feet under the desk’ during their first period in charge, Van Gaal made it clear very clear that it would be ‘his way or the highway’.