For the RoM 2015-16 preview, several of the country’s top journalists answered questions on Manchester United. Below are their answers to the question about press conferences, but they also discussed United’s transfer targets, Ed Woodward, Van Gaal’s first season, amongst other things.
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Mike Keegan, The Daily Mail, @mikekeegan_dm
There’s a huge frustration at the lack of time we get with him which tells you a lot. He has a big presence, like Fergie, and he also likes a laugh. He is brimming with confidence, unlike David Moyes who seemed a bit stunned by it all. At each presser, when they select a broadcast journalist to kick it off, the print side go ‘hmmm’ as if to suggest something sinister is afoot (hilarious, I know). It’s always puzzled Van Gaal and on the last one of the season when Karen (Shotbolt, press officer) made her choice he did this massive ‘hmmm’. It’s a daft anecdote but I think it just shows he clearly does not give a f*** about peoples’ impressions of him.
He’s very Dutch – he tells it how it is – and you get the impression he would like the pressers to go on for a bit longer. One of his main problems is that he has the habit of starting his answers with ‘yes’ whenever anyone questions him. He does not mean ‘yes’ as in ‘I agree with your question’ he means it as if to say ‘I understand what you are saying’. It’s not got him into trouble yet but it’s something they are aware of at the club.
The speech at the end of the season do did not come as a surprise to any of us, I don’t think. That was vintage Van Gaal. Obviously, he has had this amazing career in the game and he has this fearsome reputation but I think underneath it all there’s a bit of the big kid in him. He’s like the best father-in-law anyone could wish to have.
Sam Wallace, The Independent, @samwallaceindy
Van Gaal seems a very affable soul. He doesn’t hide his relief after a good result and he likes making jokes, even if his English creaks a bit at times. I read pieces last summer from Dutch journalists who said we in the English press were going to encounter a volcanic man, the like of which we had never seen before. Those Dutch reporters had obviously never witnessed Ferguson at his most merciless. He could get personal in ways no other manager did. By comparison, Van Gaal was like an over-friendly, retired next-door neighbour.
As for Moyes, obviously it was just painful at times. He tried to handle a bad situation as best as he could but it is difficult to dominate a room full of reporters when things are going so poorly on the pitch. The gloves were off that season and the power in the pressroom had shifted. It wasn’t behind the manager’s desk anymore.
Henry Winter, The Telegraph, @henrywinter
Aura, intelligence, humour. Meticulous, too. I interviewed him in the Jimmy Murphy Centre at Carrington last season and asked how long I had. ‘Until 2.58 because I have a meeting in my office at 3 and it takes me two minutes to walk there,’ he replied. I thought his post-match comments at Cambridge United were petty but he didn’t deserve a laughable FA charge. He speaks his mind, challenges journalists and, when I saw him at Carrington, we had a debate about the English media’s fixation with personality over philosophy. As well as being a good tactician, backer of youth and improver of players, Van Gaal is a man of real personal substance. He was quite emotional and frank when talking about the importance of his daughters, whom he raised after his first wife died, and also of his love for his second wife. I don’t usually like asking personal questions but it was fascinating and important to understand the man behind the headline martinet image.
Dominic Fifield, The Guardian, @domfifield
I only experienced Van Gaal in person at a handful of away games, at Southampton when his team had somehow plucked a win despite a rather stodgy performance, and at Chelsea when they had been the better side but were still narrowly beaten by the champions elect. On each occasion, however, Van Gaal dominated the post-match press conference: he has an aura to him, born of that wealth of experience, and he commanded the room. It is hard to compare that with Sir Alex, who so rarely conducted post-match briefings, but the way in which his audience hangs on his every word is similar to Ferguson’s pre-match press appearances. They appear to be cut from the same cloth.
Van Gaal is brutally honest, to the point and utterly assured when confronting the media, something his immediate predecessor occasionally lacked. At Southampton he was prickly, particularly at suggestions his side’s defending had failed to convince. It was Gary Neville up in the Sky studio who had suggested they had “got away with murder” that afternoon, but the journalist who asked Van Gaal for his own observations to the “Dog and Duck versus the Red Lion” comments was fixed with that icy stare as the manager up on stage made his displeasure very clear. He likes to joust with his inquisitors, even when his English is far from flawless. At Stamford Bridge he actually outshone Jose Mourinho with his observations of the contest, something few managers ever achieve.
The manner in which he produced the statistics to prove United were not over-reliant upon “long-ball football” up at Carrington back in February, to the obvious discomfort of the press officer at his side who was clearly hoping for a quieter life, indicated a manager intent upon doing things his own way. A coach happy to speak his own mind. In that respect, he is a breath of fresh air in an industry that is increasingly PR driven. Newspaper desks, and even journalists at other press conferences up and down the country, are intrigued to discover what Van Gaal has offered up at his pre-match briefing in the same way they were with Sir Alex. For a club of United’s stature, that seems about right.
Oliver Holt, Mail on Sunday, @ollieholt22
I’ve had limited experience of his press conferences but he seems a little less abrasive than Ferguson. He doesn’t mind an argument, that’s for sure, but I like his press conference style. He might throw a question back at you but that’s okay and he’s articulate and smart. He’s not everybody’s mate by any stretch of the imagination but he gives out a lot more than someone like Pellegrini.
Adam Crafton, The Daily Mail, @adamcrafton_
I was in Spain most of the year so I am perhaps not the most qualified to comment on this but he certainly exudes greater authority than Moyes and he seems to share Ferguson’s disdain for the media. He does, however, have a sense of humour too and fans will admire that (although the Sam Allardyce and the long- ball diagram episode was rather peculiar).