Baptism of fire

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Shamik Chakrabarty | Updated: Aug 10 2014, 06:02am hrs
Mind Louis van Gaal that this is not a two- or three-team contest like theyve had in Spain, Germany or Holland. This is the toughest football competition in the world, where the game is played with a war-like attitude.

With the Premier League starting in a weeks time, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has thrown down the gauntlet to Manchester Uniteds new manager. The heat is on. Is King Louis game

The pre-season Guinness International Cup success in the United States has lifted Uniteds morale. A 3-1 win in the final over arch rivals Liverpool has given the fans something to cheer about after a long time. A great edifice, built through Sir Alex Fergusons 26 years of hard work, crumbled under the moronic David Moyes. United finished seventh in the League last season and will miss out on European football this term. Unthinkable by their standards. Van Gaal has been brought in to turn the tables, but United cant afford to wait. The 63-year-old faces a baptism of fire.

The Dutchman is widely regarded as one of the best in the business, a giant-sized ego and added eccentricities notwithstanding. After being appointed as Bayern Munichs manager in 2009, he congratulated then club president Uli Hoeness for roping in the best manager in the world. Then, following a defeat in a Bundesliga fixture, he dropped his pants in the dressing room to show he had the b***s to drop any big-name player. But he resurrected Bayern, guiding them to League title and German Cup triumph. He also took his very young team to the 2010 Champions League final.

Van Gaal always gave youth a chance, starting from his first top-level managerial assignment at Ajax in 1991. He oversaw the progress of Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf, Nwankwo Kanu, Patrick Kluivert and Frank and Ronald de Boer. All of them went on to become big international stars. Van Gaal won the Champions League with his fledglings in 1995, edging past a star-studded AC Milan in the title showdown.

He then went to Barcelona, handed Xavi and Andres Iniesta their first team debuts and sowed the seeds of a beautiful style of football that would later be called tiki-taka. At Bayern Munich, he unearthed Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Holger Badstuber and Toni Kroos, while reshaping the career of Chelsea discard Arjen Robben.

Van Gaal arrives at Old Trafford on the heels of a very impressive World Cup performance where he helped Holland finish third. Premier League, however, will be a different ball game altogether.

The competition (here) will probably take him by surprise, warned Rodgers. And by van Gaals own admission, he has inherited a broken squad.

When theres success, youve a very good squad, and now Ive to follow and the squad was broken I think. Its more difficult to succeed in a difficult situation than in a fantastic situation, he said during Uniteds pre-season tour.

Defence is limp following the departure of Rio Ferdinand, NemanjaVidic and Partice Evra. Bringing in a top-quality centre-half is now the number one priority, and Mats Hummels and Thomas Vermaelen are on the clubs radar. Not much progress has been made yet.

Ander Herrera, a 30-million buy from Athletic Bilbao, is a good addition in midfield, but United need a ball winner at the centre of the pitch. Upfront has quality in Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, then again, this United team is full of non-performers like Nani, Anderson, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young and super-flop Marouane Fellaini. A big clear-out is needed. At least one marquee signing is required. And time is not on van Gaals side.

Uniteds rivals would be stronger. Defending champions Manchester City, backed by Arab money, now dream of knocking their beleaguered neighbours off the perch. Liverpool were fantastic last season and would be very keen to prove theyre as good even without Luis Suarez. Chelsea have added Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa in their ranks. Arsene Wenger guarantees a fourth-place finish for Arsenal. Daniel Levy has brought in Mauricio Pochettino at White Hart Lane to secure Champions League football, while Roberto Martinezs excellent Toffees will be a threat to every team. But United have to overcome the odds, for another season of failure would mean disaster. The slump under Moyes has already cost them 50 million.

The club has signed a 750-million 10-year kit sponsorship deal with Adidas, starting from 2015. The management, however, has disclosed in the new share prospectus that failure to play in the Champions League for the two or more consecutive seasons will see a 30% drop in the annual sponsorship payment. The Red Devils have to bounce back. Van Gaal has already ushered in positivity with his attitude and a new 3-4-1-2 formation. Come Christmas and we would know if hes good enough for English football.