PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW
The anticipation began to build in the closing weeks of last season when it became apparent Louis van Gaal was the man Manchester United wanted as their next manager.
After a dismal 2013-14 campaign, by United’s lofty standards, the possibility of the successful and experienced Dutchman arriving at Old Trafford offered a tantalising glimpse of a more exciting future.
That increased when Van Gaal’s appointment was confirmed weeks later and created a genuine buzz as he signed off from his previous job by guiding Holland to the World Cup semi-finals.
The Dutch enjoyed an unexpectedly long run in Brazil, with Van Gaal receiving much of the credit for their progress.
The 62-year-old stood up to the challenge, spoke confidently and provided the inspiration for a squad lacking the quality on paper that many of the other leading sides – notably the Spain side they thrashed 5-1 – possessed.
He was hailed for his innovation in using a drinks break to change tactics and for his mind games in substituting a goalkeeper prior to a penalty shoot-out.
Such a golden touch is not dissimilar to that United were used to during 26 mostly glorious years under Sir Alex Ferguson.
The challenge of succeeding Ferguson may have swallowed David Moyes, who also found it tough to grapple with the sheer size of the club but Van Gaal will not lack the confidence to do so.
With titles in Holland, Spain and Germany under his belt, he strode into Old Trafford like he belonged there this summer and immediately spoke with commanding authority.
At a stroke, without even kicking a ball in anger under their new manager, it seemed the Red Devils were back in the Premier League title frame after last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish.
The team will now need to live up to the standards Van Gaal will demand of them and already the mood has been transformed.
“For me, the challenge is always first, not fourth,” he said at his unveiling. “I will do my best and that’s what I can give. It’s the biggest club in the world, which I know already after two days.
“When you are asked by the biggest club in the world, it’s a big chance for me. When there is a challenge like this, I never let it go.”
United were widely perceived to have lost ground after Ferguson retired with yet another Premier League title to his name in 2013.
They failed to make much of an impression in the transfer market and momentum was never gained after a slow start to the campaign. In the end, it came as little surprise when former Preston boss Moyes was given his marching orders in April.
This time, despite being without the services of Van Gaal until July due to the World Cup, the club were proactive.
Van Gaal gave his consent to the signings of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera and the two were already in place when he arrived to take office.
This week he confirmed that Wayne Rooney will be his captain and his relationship with the striker will be key to United’s success.
Some significant players have left the club since the end of last term in Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, while Ryan Giggs has left the playing staff to become Van Gaal’s assistant.
It remains to be seen whether Van Gaal can lift the squad to the levels he aspires to but his confidence to do so should be compelling viewing.
Van Gaal does have his critics.
But it does seem the man and the club are a natural fit. United’s demands are high and Van Gaal is determined to meet them.