Louis van Gaal brings Manchester United back to its past of no-nonsense soccer

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

In his homeland of the Netherlands, Louis van Gaal is known as "The Iron Tulip," meaning he is now the possessor of both the English Premier League's toughest coaching job and its oddest nickname.

Analyzing what a tulip's characteristics are – apart from being Dutch – requires a discussion that we don't have time for, not with the Premier League season just a few days away. But what is not lost in translation is that van Gaal, the new Manchester United boss, is no shrinking violet.

And that, in itself, is exactly what United needs.

Van Gaal is his own man with a glittering pedigree, but his no-nonsense approach and demand for discipline also make him the closest thing the game has to Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary coach who steered United through 2½ decades of mostly unfettered glory.

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When that era ended and Ferguson's anointed successor David Moyes could do no better than a gloomy seventh-place finish, it was clear that change was both required and inevitable.

The Moyes experiment showed starkly that the task of leading the club is too burdensome for the ill-prepared. Moyes, for all his fine work during 10 years at Everton, was unfortunately not up to the challenge and was cowed by its gravity in the end. Van Gaal won't shirk, not after stints at Barcelona and Bayern Munich and fresh from taking the Netherlands to the World Cup semifinals.

The 63-year-old is his own greatest fan, but that is no criticism. He took the Dutch way to Barcelona during two separate periods in charge and he will similarly bring a version of it to Manchester, already showing intent with a 3-5-2 formation that has the potential to shake up the Premiership.

He won't accept any of the unseemly insubordination that was seen last season at United and, like Ferguson, he has little time for doubters and dissenters.

There are far too many anecdotes to mention but one worth regaling from several years back involved a hapless journalist who was unfortunate enough to have been unwittingly booked into the same hotel as the Dutch team that van Gaal then led. Convinced the reporter was an opposition spy, van Gaal had the reporter confronted by security and ordered from the premises.

Has he mellowed? Not much. During the group stage in Brazil, at the precise time when the Netherlands had just cruised through their Group of Death and was then the most in-form team in the tournament, van Gaal responded to a question about his tactics following a win over Chile by furiously and snidely berating an American writer who dared to quiz him about defense.

The van Gaal formula is tough but it is consistent. He gives no favor to any player, yet most of his former charges love him nevertheless.

New signing Luke Shaw, the 19-year-old left back, was given a swift and stark introduction to life under van Gaal. No sooner had he been unveiled as a United player than the coach banished him to train apart from the squad for apparently being out of shape.

Toward the end, even Ferguson admitted that treatment of modern day players was, by necessity, very different to yesteryear. Egos these days are more fragile, according to the Ferguson wisdom. Van Gaal seems determined to test that logic with an approach that marries modern tactics and old school toughness.

The methodology will start to be tested at home against Swansea City on Saturday when all eyes will be on United to see if a challenge for the title is a realistic target this season. It will be difficult, that much is certain, as defending champion Manchester City look strong and Chelsea are eagerly hunting an EPL crown under Jose Mourinho.

United has added to its squad by bringing in Shaw and midfielder Ander Herrera. But the club was also frustrated to find that, without the lure of Champions League soccer this season, some transfer targets were unwilling to make the switch to Old Trafford.

Such a scenario is one that won't sit well with the Iron Tulip. His task is to take the team back to the top, although there is a general level of understanding from the club's board and fans that it may not happen immediately.

Van Gaal, with his iron grip, seems to be the man to negotiate the climb back to the summit.

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