The season’s not over yet, but the fans are happy. Gone are the painful expressions of dismay and dejection, worn last season by fans who wondered where it had all gone wrong and if it would ever go right again for their beloved Manchester United. Louis van Gaal has given us a reason to be jolly again that has nothing to do with Christmas: he’s taken us back to comforting, familiar territory (in 3 position in the Premier League table), where we can have a sniff at the summit, even if we don’t quite get there. It takes a true leader to achieve such a turnaround, and here are three lessons we can learn from the Iron Tulip.
1. United you stand, divided you fall
As many football managers will attest, having disgruntled, disconnected and frustrated key players – players who are listened to in the dressing room - will do you more harm than good. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidić, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernández have all alluded to their frustrations when playing under previous manager David Moyes. By contrast, we hear nothing but praise from the first team – particularly from key players - for new leader van Gaal, and it is no coincidence that what looked like a sinking ship under Moyes’ tenure has now been steadied.
Lesson: Team unity is key. Get your ‘movers and shakers’ on your side (giving Rooney the captaincy was a clever move) and the tough job of leadership will be smoother.
2. Know your assets and maximise their potential
Of captain Wayne Rooney, van Gaal said this:
“I can play Wayne Rooney in midfield or attack...” (Via Daily Mail)
A number of players have excelled on the pitch this season, displaying qualities many of us did not know existed: Ashley Young is unrecognisable, enjoying a remarkable resurgence of form as a wingback; Marouane Fellaini has been a revelation (now we can see why Moyes was so keen to bring him over to us); David de Gea is now officially Superman – move over Tim Howard; and Michael Carrick has been lauded by journalists and football ‘legends’ alike for his ‘footballing intelligence’ and emphatic influence on Manchester United’s games thus far.
Lesson: It is often said that the mark of a good manager is how well the team improves. If that’s the case, van Gaal should be given an A*.
3. Lead with authority and conviction
Van Gaal talks about his ‘philosophy’ quite a lot, but that doesn’t make you a leader. There’s the tricky business of communicating that ‘philosophy’ in a way that is understood and supported by all concerned. This requires authority and conviction, qualities Van Gaal clearly possesses. We see them demonstrated in his pre- and post-match briefings: key points are repeated for extra clarity; questions considered by him as unnecessary or distracting are swiftly dismissed – he has no great yen to be liked; and he often draws on previous experiences elsewhere to explain his decisions or attitudes, underscoring to his authority. Ultimately, the impression he leaves you with is that of a man with a clear vision (Champions League qualification) and a job to do and that, come what may, he will succeed. Few would doubt him.
Lesson: Having a vision is just the start. Without authority and conviction, you’ll struggle to achieve it.
It is early days of course, and Manchester United is still, as sports journalists love to remind us, a ‘work in progress’. Champions League places are yet to be decided. What is beyond question, however, is the impact of a strong leader at the helm. As a fellow fan remarked recently, “without that, we’re sunk”.
Image via MIRROR