At times last season, it felt as though the infamous Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times" was written for Manchester United. Ironic it would be, as United ever increasingly look to convince China that Manchester United is made for them. Anyhow, when David Moyes took over as Manchester United manager last summer, I remember thinking that whatever happens, at least it will be interesting. And it was.
United's summers are always crazed as they hop around the world, whore themselves out to sponsors and cameras, and absorb themselves in at least one transfer saga. Last summer's rollercoaster had all of that, along with the added loops and corkscrews of just what a new look Manchester United would look like. Suddenly, every last detail was a matter of interest, more so than usual, and as fan bases go, United's is particularly crazed and fickle about the not-so-important things (last summer, Moyes' pronunciation of the name "Shinji" caused a storm, today it's Van Gaal hugging Rooney). Of course, as the summer and indeed the season went on, things began to spiral out of control and David Moyes lost his job. It was interesting – everything apart from the football, that is. That infamous Chinese curse began to resonate - "may you live in interesting times" indeed.
Things have been a little too interesting at Old Trafford lately. Ed Woodward telling everybody about his business, dressing room leaks aplenty and transfer sagas by the bucket load. And it has been Van Gaal's interesting management which has again whet the appetites of United's fans, but followers of the Premier League more generally too. A style which isn't just limited to penalty shoot-outs or even the pitch, but notably how Van Gaal operates in the media. YouTube is full of videos where Van Gaal dresses down journalists who dare to criticise him, and in some instances, it doesn't even require that for Van Gaal to launch into a tirade. We're seeing some very early signs of that side of Van Gaal at United too. Not a tirade as such, but when Van Gaal openly and frankly (and it's worth pointing out, rightly) expressed his frustrations at United's commercial machine at his pre-match press conference in the early hours of this morning, it came into very clear focus than Van Gaal is a not a man who will stay silent to keep the peace. There has been little consequence, as Ed Woodward, the man oiling United's commercial machine, has already come out and sided with Van Gaal, claiming that football will take priority, and that next summer, the Dutchman will have greater influence in pre-season planning. Whether things will remain so placid when next summer comes around...we shall have to wait and see. The broader point is that one of the most important things Van Gaal can do in the short term is restore as much poise and calm to the club as possible – take away as many of the 'interesting' aspects as he possibly can.
Apparently there's "a buzz" about the place as United and Van Gaal enjoy the honeymoon period that comes with such an appointment, but they must ensure the buzz eases into a steady, mundane hum. However, that will be easier said than done. Ferguson, for instance, enjoyed final say in most matters, but he was Sir Alex Ferguson. David Moyes, on the other hand, oversaw a pre-season in which United's commercial side took full advantage of Moyes' weaker and lesser reaching influence. Van Gaal will likely sit somewhere in between the two – I'd watch this space. Of course, as hard it is to believe at times, United are still a football club, so a good place to begin restoring order is with the playing squad, where great uncertainty still remains. Woodward and Van Gaal still have a lot of work to do in this summers transfer market. A CB, LB and at least one CM remain essential priorities, and United could do without prolonged transfer sagas this summer with the season just four weeks away. There will surely be numerous outgoings also. What the club must avoid at all costs is another frantic final week in the transfer window. Clubs around them are currently acting with great decisiveness and United have to do the same.
Then there is the issue surrounding captaincy; Van Gaal suggested that he may wait a number of weeks before naming his captain. This makes sense and fits Van Gaal's studious nature, but he should be mindful of prolonging his indecision too long. Imagine for instance, that Rooney is named captain for much of United's pre-season tour...but the armband is then handed to Robin van Persie when he rejoins the squad. That will be a story whether Van Gaal likes it or not. And of course there is Van Gaal himself, notoriously tetchy and irritable in front of the media. It may well be fun for us to see, but it will only serve to make life more difficult for a man who clearly doesn't enjoy distractions. In relative terms, David Moyes was treated particularly kindly by the press pack. One senses the same may not apply to Van Gaal should he begin to take them on as he has in the past. Realistically, it is impossible for Van Gaal to neuter all the furore around United, and ultimately, it will be the results on the pitch that determine how things pan out this season for United. But what he and the club can do is minimise the nerves until then; last summer, United began to fan the flames and the fire got out of control.