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On this day, May 19, 2014: Louis van Gaal named Manchester United manager

Dutchman's arrival was hailed as a major coup after disappointment of Moyes

“It was always a wish for me to work in the Premier League,” said Louis van Gaal, then 62, on this day in 2014. “To work as a manager for Manchester United, the biggest club in the world, makes me very proud. I have managed in games at Old Trafford before and know what an incredible arena it is and how passionate and knowledgeable the fans are. This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions. Together I’m sure we will make history.”

Four years after his Bayern Munich side knocked United out of the Champions League at Old Trafford – thus stopping United reaching four successive finals, Van Gaal was appointed. It came a month after David Moyes’ six-year contract was terminated after 10 months once it became clear that United, the reigning champions, wouldn’t be qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since 1995. In fact United wouldn’t even qualify for Europe after finishing seventh, their lowest finish since 1990.

Van Gaal would take the helm once his commitments managing the Dutch national team at the World Cup finals were over. The former Barcelona coach’s reputation was enhanced in Brazil, where the Netherlands defeated holders Spain 5-1 before going on to finish third.

Ryan Giggs, then 40, was announced as Van Gaal’s assistant. United’s record appearance holder had met Van Gaal at his home in the Netherlands the previous week and the meeting went well.

“I am thrilled to have the chance to serve as assistant manager,” said Giggs in press release speak. “Louis van Gaal is a world-class coach and I know I will learn a lot about coaching from being able to observe and contribute at such close quarters.

“Manchester United has been a huge part of my life and I’m delighted to be able to continue that relationship in such a key role.”

Giggs, who would retire as a footballer after a record 23 years and 963 appearances in United's first team, liked the man he calls ‘Louie’ and still feels that he learnt much from him. Van Gaal emailed his close friends to tell them the news, that he was delighted that his next project was to be at ‘the great English club, Manchester United FC’. Many would visit him during his time in Manchester, where he would take them to Wings Chinese restaurant. His wife was a friendly face around Manchester, too, as the couple embraced life in England.

Ryan Giggs, right, worked as Louis van Gaal's assistant at Manchester United. Getty Images
Ryan Giggs, right, worked as Louis van Gaal's assistant at Manchester United. Getty Images

Giggs would be part of a coaching team which included the goalkeeping coach, Frans Hoek, charged with looking after Edvin van der Sar and Victor Valdes, and Marcel Bout, who had previously worked at Bayern Munich, AZ and Feyenoord, as assistant coach.

Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman, underlined in a club statement why United had sought out the Dutchman’s expertise: “In Louis van Gaal, we have secured the services of one of the outstanding managers in the game today. He has achieved many things in his career to date and Old Trafford provides him with a fitting stage on which to write new chapters in the Manchester United story."

Van Gaal, as both Woodward and most other commentators saw it, was big enough for the job – something that Moyes had seemed overwhelmed by. Woodward sounded genuine when he said: “Everyone is very excited about this new phase in the club's history. His track record of success in winning leagues and cups across Europe throughout his career makes him the perfect choice for us. People know him as a larger than life character but I have also been extremely impressed by his intelligence, thoughtful approach to the role and his diligence. I'm looking forward to working with him.”

Giggs had been caretaker manager for four games before Van Gaal took charge. Van Gaal quickly assumed the role of mentor to the Welshman, and soon began to speak of him being his successor. Giggs felt he was ready to take over when his Van Gaal lost his job. But that was two years down the line.

Louis van Gaal did lead Manchester United to glory in the 2016 FA Cup final, but his style of football was never truly embraced by the fans. Getty
Louis van Gaal did lead Manchester United to glory in the 2016 FA Cup final, but his style of football was never truly embraced by the fans. Getty

On May 19, 2014, United fans welcomed Van Gaal with optimism. Not only had he been a success at the biggest clubs, he had a proven track record of promoting young players - from the Ajax team which won the European Cup in 1995 to Andres Iniesta and Xavi at Barcelona.

United needed some stability because while Moyes had also become welcomed having being anointed as Ferguson’s successor, the previous season had been a disaster, with consecutive 3-0 home defeats to arch rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.

In pre-season, Van Gaal began brightly (well, after getting the name of Chris Smalling wrong and the team coach being stuck in Los Angeles traffic for two hours). His side impressed and defeated European champions Real Madrid 4-1 in front of 110,000 in Michigan. Reality hit home when United lost at home to Swansea City when the season proper began. It was going to be a very tough job and those big ambitions mentioned by Van Gaal were never fully realised.

Although the FA Cup victory he presided over in 2016 would be welcomed with wild celebrations today, it was not enough to save him from the sack.

Updated: May 19, 2020 08:13 AM

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