22 October 2016
A younger generation of Manchester United players  found Louis van Gaal's old-school coaching style too tough to swallow. Photo: Reuters
A younger generation of Manchester United players found Louis van Gaal's old-school coaching style too tough to swallow. Photo: Reuters

Van Gaal sacked after not getting along with post-90s players

Manchester United is expected to hire Jose Mourinho as the soccer team’s new manager, replacing Louis van Gaal.

For a loyal United fan like me, it means the two-year nightmare with Gaal is finally ending.

United has delivered unacceptable results during his tenure for a club so rich in its trophy history and its balance sheet.

English media outlets have revealed that Gaal’s rigid and intense coaching style failed with the new generation of football players.

As one of the world’s most successful football coaches, Gaal is the former boss of Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich and won the league championship each time.

He succeeded in bringing home the 2014 World Cup trophy for the Netherlands, without too many stars on his team.

Gaal was hailed as a genius before he joined United.

The senior management of United granted him up to 250 million pounds (US$366 million) to bring in new players.

It seemed a winning formula, given Gaal’s perfect track record, authority and abundant financial support.

But his magic failed to work this time.

United scored only 49 goals during this Premier League season, finished fifth and cannot take part in the UEFA Champions League next year.

It makes sense that he was sacked.

In fact, the United management started to leak information to the media several days before firing Gaal.

He faced a severe backlash from United’s young players born in the 1990s, and these players even planned to revolt against him and openly announce their defiance.

That’s the key reason why the team has performed so poorly in recent years.

Gaal led so many football stars over his 30-year coaching career but never lost the dressing room.

Why did he fail in leading the team at United?

The 64-year-old is well known for his old-school coaching style, and he insists on strict obedience and discipline.

The team is reportedly required to arrive for training sessions before 8:30 in the morning, and bedtime is set at 10:30 p.m.

That sounds quite reasonable for professional athletes who earn 10 million pounds a year.

He even requested that his players take a two-hour nap in the afternoon, and they were allowed to eat only toast before going to bed.

We should not jump to the conclusion that his coaching style is a failure.

It worked for the last three decades, and he managed to turn some young players into the world’s top football stars.

Gaal brought on board the 21-year-old Dutch player Memphis Depay, paying him 28 million pounds and giving him the symbolic No. 7 jersey to show his high expectations for his countryman.

However, the young player has been so disappointing.

Depay did not follow his coach’s instructions and lived a luxurious and playful life.

That shows how Gaal’s headmaster style works with young players.

The same problem is quite common in the business world, as company managements scratch their head over how to deal with employees born in the ’90s.

The younger generation is not used to following instructions, and a heavy-handed management style will only make them rebel.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 25.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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