Manchester United have officially announced that Louis van Gaal will take over as manager, ushering in a new era at Old Trafford. The 62-year-old Dutchman replaces David Moyes, who was sacked back in April.
United confirmed the news via their official Twitter, revealing he has signed a three-year contract:
The club later announced Ryan Giggs' retirement in order to focus on his duties as United's No. 2:
Ed Woodward, the club's CEO, commented in an official statement released on United's official website:
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.
I'm delighted that Louis has chosen Ryan as his assistant. Ryan's association with the club spans over two decades and his knowledge and stature will be of great use to Louis. In addition, this is a fantastic opportunity for Ryan to learn his trade alongside a world-class manager whose attacking instincts and belief in youth are tailor-made for Manchester United.
Van Gaal commented in the same statement:
It was always a wish for me to work in the Premier League. 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 Old Trafford 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.
Van Gaal has been the clear-cut favourite for a few weeks now; his hiring was a mere formality.
He was both a qualified candidate and somebody who would be available. The 2014 World Cup will end Van Gaal's time as coach of the Netherlands national team, with Guus Hiddink set to take over until the 2016 European Championship.
The Dutchman is renowned for his ability to build teams from the ground up, which is arguably what needs to happen at Old Trafford in order to fully move on from Sir Alex Ferguson. Van Gaal has proven in the past he can be the man to set in motion the long-term plan that his successor would be able to follow.
Van Gaal's first management job came at Ajax, where he led the Dutch giants to a Champions League title in 1995 and runner-up finish in 1996. Van Gaal helped groom young stars like Marc Overmars, Edwin van der Sar, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Frank de Boer, Jari Litmanen and Clarence Seedorf before they moved on to greener pastures.
He then delivered back-to-back titles at Barcelona in 1998 and 1999, during which time he served as a major influence on Jose Mourinho, who was Barca's assistant manager at the time.
Is Van Gaal the right man for Man Utd?
It wasn't until a decade later that Van Gaal once again found himself near the summit of European football. He took a Bayern Munich side that had been hampered by the mismanagement of Jurgen Klinsmann and turned them into Bundesliga champions. They nearly pulled off a treble in 2010.
His biggest player successes were identifying Bastian Schweinsteiger as a defensive midfielder instead of a winger and thrusting Thomas Mueller into the first team.
Once again, Van Gaal proved an adept tactician and team-builder, but his shortcomings reared their ugly head not too long after Bayern's massive 2010 success. His contract was terminated after the 2010-11 season.
Luca Toni told German magazine Sport Bild, via ESPN FC, "Van Gaal simply didn't want to work with me, he treats players like interchangeable objects."
The Italian striker also recounted a story in which the manager dropped his trousers to show that he quite literally had the manhood to drop any player in the team.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern's chief executive officer, spoke with Bild, via Goal's Clark Whitney, after Van Gaal's departure, summing up what can be the problem with hiring the Dutchman:
Van Gaal's failure is clearly in his attitude, if that mentality is customary—as it is with [Felix] Magath—you have to have success. If it fails, you lose your friends. And the look of the league table and the other competitors is sobering.
Regardless of Van Gaal's pedigree, there are still some lingering questions following his United appointment, chief among them being how his 4-3-3 possession-based attack might fit in at Old Trafford.
Working with the club's big personalities may also be a bit difficult in the early going.
Mehmet Scholl, who spent time working under Van Gaal as Bayern's reserve team coach, told Jamie Jackson of The Guardian:
His thing is really working on the pitch—that's brilliant. And that's how the players learn. You know by yourself that if you learn from somebody you are curious, you want to learn more.
Some of the players, I can tell you, like (Wayne) Rooney, I don't think he has to learn anything more. So that will be difficult for him if the coach says: "You have to do it in a completely different way. Whatever you did until now, change it."
One of Van Gaal's first tasks will no doubt be sorting out the Rooney-Robin van Persie partnership. Van Persie has been limited to 21 Premier League appearances this season, in which he's scored 12 goals. Maybe the manager can use his and RVP's shared nationality to get the star striker back to his best.
Van Gaal will also need to revamp the defence and midfield, which have been problems for Manchester United over the past few seasons. Reinforcements are undoubtedly needed, and ownership should be willing to provide the transfer funds necessary to address the problem.
As if dealing with the on-field issues aren't enough, Van Gaal will also have to navigate a backroom in which former United players may feature.
Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail reported that club CEO Ed Woodward had played a part in ensuring Giggs stayed on as assistant. However, the futures of Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville remain unconfirmed.
Rob Harris of The Associated Press wonders if having Giggs and Co. part of the staff may cause problems for Van Gaal:
Problem for Van Gaal with Giggs and the Class of 92 working under him is there would be a leadership in waiting in the dugout— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) April 26, 2014
Given that the Dutchman is in his 60s, even the most optimistic outlook likely can't see him at Old Trafford beyond four or five years. Any sort of insurrection by the Class of '92 seems unlikely, and many of them will likely jump at the chance to learn under a footballing mind like Van Gaal.
United supporters shouldn't delude themselves into thinking that bringing in Van Gaal will automatically return the club to its perch atop English football. He's undoubtedly a brilliant manager, but he does carry some baggage.
All things considered, though, he's one of the best people out there to get the systemic changes in place at Old Trafford that will make Manchester United a great club once again.
His true impact may not be felt until years after his departure, though.