Louis Van Gaal was known to be very hard on his players at Manchester United – so much so that he eventually lost the dressing room. Contrary to his harsh treatment of his players generally, some senior players were know to have grown frustrated by the ‘special treatment’ afforded to experienced German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger who has just four first team appearances since January.

It is thought the relationship was so poor that he would not have survived a player coo even if his team had qualified for the Champions League.

From the outset, Van Gaal imposed a military style operation with stringent demands that didn’t sit well with players. His early pre-season training revolved around twice daily intense sessions including early morning starts and team meetings for a fortnight with very little rest or recovery leaving players shattered and unprepared for the start of the season. Despite player discontent however, Van Gaal’s continued to persist with his iron fist management style which he developed at Ajax in the mid-1990s. Such an approach failed him in his ability to foster a positive team dynamic and in 2013/14, tired and disaffected players had United’s worst start to a season in 25 years.


Regimes under previous managers (Moyes and Ferguson) afforded the first team a day off or recovery day after a game. This off day is replicated by many successful clubs but Van Gaal had players report for training on such days to sit through a full video replay of the previous day’s game. The intense criticism at these sessions became a real bugbear of the players – so much so that senior players paid a visit to Van Gaal to ask him ease off on lads to avoid damaging their confidence.

Van Gaal took the advice on board but resorted to emailing clips to players with notes attached. As players stopped opening the emails, he then installed a system which facilitated him knowing whether the emails were opened or not.


Additionally, recent reports suggest that Van Gaal tried very much to control everything they did on the pitch and rarely afforded them licence to take risks and express themselves. Players were restrained by his tactics, not empowered so much so that players regarded his tactics as too slow and methodical. He even instructed them not to shoot first time in the box and sought that they take a touch before shooting – at which point on numerous times, the scoring opportunity was lost.
Van Gaal, like many old school managers prefer an autocratic approach to their management. While this has shown to get results sometimes, it is often on a short term basis. Scientific studies have shown a more empowering approach to be a much better and sustainable model of management. Read more on this here.


Keith Begley is an accredited sport psychologist with the Irish Institute of Sport.

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