Life after Sir Alex Ferguson has been difficult at Old Trafford, and David Moyes didn’t seem up to the task last year. Every time he emerged from the tunnel, it seemed he had aged years in the span of a week. After a strong figure such as Ferguson in charge of the team, Moyes played it a little too loose with the squad. Individual performances can only carry a club so far if the collective isn’t united by a common thread.
Ryan Giggs found some success at the end of the season by instilling that sense of unity again, and Louis van Gaal will take that to the next level. The Dutch tactician has a team-first mentality that gave even the superstars and supposedly fragmented egos on his native national side inspiration in Brazil, catapulting the Oranje farther than it was supposed to go.
Van Gaal has already made the task of reversing fortune for England’s biggest club look relatively simple, instilling an entirely new system of play and still performing well in preseason. The reason it looks so easy is because of van Gaal’s experience and ability as a trainer, as well as his propensity to find the simplest route to success and hammer home every detail of his philosophy in that approach.
By next May, fans will be looking at a very different United side than it saw at the end of last season — and probably an evolved team even from the one that kicks off the season this weekend.
KEY ARRIVALS: M Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao), D Luke Shaw (Southampton)
KEY DEPARTURES: D Patrice Evra (Juventus), D Rio Ferdinand (released), D Nemanja Vidić (Inter Milan)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Under van Gaal in Brazil, Robin van Persie scored one of the goals of the tournament on a diving header and played more inspired than he had in months for his club. Van Gaal knows how to bring that out of him, which should take him to another level over a nine-month sample size.
KEY STAT: United’s seventh-place finish last season was its worst in the Premier League’s existence, the worst for a defending champion since Blackburn finished seventh in 1995-96 and the only time that United hasn’t qualified for a European competition out of the EPL. That’s what van Gaal has been hired to reverse.
STADIUM: Old Trafford (Built in 1909; Capacity 75,731)
The largest stadium in the EPL (only Wembley is larger in England for soccer) was designed by Archibald Leitch and suffered bomb damage twice during World War II. The famed stadium, which has held countless top-level fixtures, received its first roof in 1951, a process that saw all stands covered by the end of the decade, including the stand rebuilt after the bombing damage.