TWO of the biggest jobs in world football were filled yesterday as Manchester United broke with 136 years of tradition to welcome Louis van Gaal as their new manager, while Barcelona appointed Luis Enrique as their new coach.
On a tumultuous day at Old Trafford, Ryan Giggs ended his storied playing career to become van Gaal’s assistant.
Exactly a year after waving goodbye to Sir Alex Ferguson and his 26 seasons of steady success, the most turbulent 12 months of United’s recent history ended with the club’s hierarchy, new coaching staff and fans expressing confidence that the good times are about to return. In a widely anticipated move, van Gaal was handed the sizeable task of restoring the team’s fortunes following the woeful ten-month reign of David Moyes, signing a three-year deal that will begin once he finishes his duties with the Netherlands national team at the upcoming World Cup.
The 62-year-old Dutchman, who will be United’s first manager from outside Britain or Ireland, has the experience of coaching – and winning titles – at top European teams Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He will be viewed as a much safer bet than Moyes, who proved to be too inexperienced at the highest level. “This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions,” van Gaal said, proclaiming United as the “biggest club” in football.
“Together I’m sure we will make history,” he said.
Assisting van Gaal at Old Trafford will be Giggs, who brought to a close his 23-year career on the same day that he became a full-time football coach at the club he made his name as one of Britain’s greatest ever players.
After 13 league titles, two Champions Leagues, a club-record 963 appearances and 168 goals, Giggs is swapping his boots for a suit at Old Trafford. “For me, today is a new chapter filled with many emotions – immense pride, sadness, but most of all, excitement towards the future,” Giggs said in an open letter, in which he also praised the abilities of van Gaal.
United, with their record 20 league titles and three European Cup trophies, haven’t been in such a state of flux for a generation. It all started with the retirement of Sir Alex last May, along with the disappearance of the final remnants of the “Class of 92” generation that was so instrumental in those glory days under the Scot.
David Beckham, the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt have all ended their playing careers and now Giggs has done the same. United just won’t be the same. For van Gaal and Giggs to form any kind of dream team, they need to click immediately with United scarcely contemplating another season like the one just finished.
Under Moyes, United placed seventh for its lowest finish in the Premier League’s 22-year history, in what proved to be the worst defence of a league title. To make matters worse, the team failed to qualify for Europe – for the first time in 24 years. Van Gaal’s remit will be to get United back in the lucrative Champions League and back playing the kind of attacking, dynamic brand of football expected at Old Trafford.
Enrique meanwhile, signed a two-year deal to coach Barcelona, who also finalised Lionel Messi’s new improved contract. The 44-year-old replaces Gerardo Martino, who stepped down on Saturday after just one season in charge having failed to win a major trophy. “Luis Enrique has been chosen as the new first team trainer having been given the backing of sports director Andoni Zubizarreta,” read a Barcelona statement. The club also confirmed the signing of keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen from Borussia Monchengladbach and the return of Rafa Alcantara and Gerard Deulofeu, out on loan at Celta Vigo and Everton respectively.