The 62-year-old Dutchman has signed a three-year contract and will take over at Old Trafford after the World Cup in Brazil, becoming the first United manager from outside Britain and Ireland. United great Ryan Giggs will be his assistant.
“To work as a manager for Manchester United, the biggest club in the world, makes me very proud,” Van Gaal said in a United statement. “This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions. Together I’m sure we will make history.”
Van Gaal has experience of coaching—and winning league titles—at some of the world’s top teams, but even spells at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich may not prepare him for the rebuilding job required at United.
The club has been in a state of flux since the retirement of Alex Ferguson last May after nearly 27 years in charge. Moyes, Ferguson’s successor, was dismissed last month before the team went on to finish seventh—its lowest placing since the Premier League’s inception in 1992.
United also failed to qualify for European football for the first time in 24 years.
Van Gaal is likely to be handed considerable funds to strengthen the squad to get United back in the Champions League, something the club’s American owners — the Glazer family—weren’t prepared to give Moyes. A return to Europe’s top competition will likely be the priority, followed by a desire to play the kind of attacking, dynamic brand of football expected at United but unable to be delivered by Moyes.
United has broken the mold by appointing Van Gaal.
In the club’s 136-year history, no previous manager has come from outside Britain or Ireland, a common occurrence at England’s other big clubs in recent years.
The notion of United hiring coaches in a bid to create a dynasty—something Ferguson uniquely achieved—also appears to have ended.
After spending six years at Ajax, where Van Gaal guided a talented young team to the pinnacle of European football by winning the Champions League in 1995, he joined Barcelona in 1997 for the first of two spells—the first lasting three seasons and the second barely half a year. He has since coached AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch league and Bayern between 2009-11.
So he may not be the long-term manager many at United crave—Giggs, United’s interim manager for last season’s final four games and one of the club’s greatest players, is thought to be being groomed for the seat in the future—but the fact that Van Gaal has won league titles with every team he has worked makes him one of Europe’s most-respected coaches.
He has been coach of the Netherlands since 2012, his second spell with the national team following a stint from 2000-02.
“Everyone is very excited about this new phase in the club’s history,” United vice-chairman Ed Woodward said. “His track record of success in winning leagues and cups across Europe throughout his career makes him the perfect choice for us.
“People know him as a larger-than-life character but I have also been extremely impressed by his intelligence, thoughtful approach to the role and his diligence.”
He can be spiky and provocative with journalists and hardly lacks in self-belief, a trait which can often spill over to make him appear arrogant. But after the failed tenure of Moyes, United needed a manager who commanded respect and had a strong track record.
His job won’t be easy. While United has regressed since landing its record-extending 20th English championship last year, rival Liverpool has improved greatly under Brendan Rodgers and finished second in the Premier League this season. Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal are established members of the top group and showing no signs of being on the slide.
The appointment of Giggs as Van Gaal’s No. 2 will satisfy those eager for some continuity at the club following the trophy-filled era of Ferguson.
It wasn’t clear from United’s statement whether the 40-year-old Giggs, British football’s most decorated player, would be continuing his playing career.
“I know I will learn a lot about coaching from being able to observe and contribute at such close quarters,” Giggs said. “Manchester United has been a huge part of my life and I’m delighted to be able to continue that relationship in such a key role.”