Next week Manchester United are rumoured to announce the appointment of Louis Van Gaal as their new manager. The Dutchman has been the favourite for the job ever since David Moyes was sacked last month. Ryan Giggs has overseen the first team as caretaker manager for the past two games and will continue to do so until at least the end of the season.
Giggs has bought in ex-players Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes into his coaching set-up, alongside Phil Neville, who was also part of Moyes’ backroom staff. If Van Gaal is to be Manchester United’s next manager it will be interesting to see if and how the ‘Class of 92’ will figure in his plans. The current Netherlands national team manager is assisted by his ex-players from Ajax, Patrick Kluivert and Danny Blind and he may want to bring in his own men to Old Trafford next season.
Van Gaal first made his name as a manager at Ajax, winning the Champions League in 1995 with a squad largely consisting of home-grown players such as Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids. This famous generation of academy graduates had a similar impact as ‘The Class of 92’ at Manchester United, who went on to dominate the Premier League and snatch the Champions League from Bayern Munich’s grasp in 1999.
The Amsterdam club haven’t been able to reach those heights since which led to Cruyff offering some outspoken views; criticising the board, the lack of youth development and managers, despite not being at the club in an official capacity. However in the last few years they have reclaimed their place as the strongest club in the Netherlands with four consecutive Eredivisie titles. This recent success his coincided with the revolution at the club, with Johan Cruyff overseeing return of great players from their past running the club, including Edwin van der Sar as Marketing director and Marc Overmars as Technical director.
Giggs spoke about returning to a Manchester United style of performance which had been lacking following Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. In his first press conference as caretaker he said, “”It is my philosophy and it is Manchester United’s philosophy.” The return of former players at Ajax has seen a move back to a style of play which they are famed for and is part of their DNA. The first team is coached by Frank de Boer, in his first senior managerial role and support by former team-mates Dennis Bergkamp and ex-United defender Jaap Stam. Cruyff has described this team as the “technical heart” of the club.
Before working with the first team de Boer and Bergkamp were training the youth teams, where they had come through some 25 years previously. Following a similar path, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt have been working with the youth and reserve teams before stepping up to the first team to support Ryan Giggs.
Following his retirement last summer Sir Alex Ferguson is currently Director at the club where he won 38 trophies in 26 years. The former manager played a crucial role in the arrival of David Moyes from Everton last summer, showing how much authority he holds at the club. Despite the appointment of his fellow Scot not proving to be successful he will have a large say in who is managing the team next season. Success as manager has earned him legendary status at the club, where he has an almost God-like status with the fans.
Cruyff has a similar iconic status at the Amsterdam ArenA. As former player, coach and now advisor Cruyff has played a major role in Ajax’s history, as well as its future. When he wasn’t part of the set-up at the club he was always very outspoken with his views. Now that he is back at the club he has re-established the “Ajax Way” and has others who share his philosophy in crucial roles at the club.
In his advisory capacity at Ajax he is in communication with de Boer and his backroom staff. In an interview with David Winner, author of Dennis Bergkamp’s excellent biography, Stillness and Speed, Cruyff “warned them (current manager and coaches) never to blindly implement anything I say” instead “listen to me and then make their own decision.” However the Dutchman went onto say “decisions will never be different from the way I think about things, because we think exactly the same way about the main principles.”
Critics of Cruyff may say that he has more influence than someone in just an advisory capacity and that his former players are implementing his orders, and that he is a sort of puppet master. However the principles of the club which he has spoken about were originally from his former manager, the legendary Rinus Michel.
Before his retirement Sir Alex Ferguson implored the fans to support Moyes and he obviously wanted him to succeed. It will be interesting to know what he thinks of Van Gaal as the decision to appoint the Dutchman won’t be exclusively Ferguson’s choice as the previous appointment appeared to be. If things were to go wrong for the new man the fiery Scot may be more outspoken in his views of the club. However he is unlikely to be too critical of the club as he has been in charge for so long and may be culpable for some problems such as an ageing squad and lack of youth team talent.
At United Giggs, Scholes, Butt and Phil Neville knows what it takes to play at the top level. Frank De Boer, Bergkamp and Stam have shown that despite a lack of coaching experience, with the right guidance, they can successfully manage a huge club like Ajax. United may go for Van Gaal now but with Giggs and co in the coaching set-up they may have someone who knows United better than anyone else.