Louis van Gaal hasn’t had a chance to see many of the sights since arriving in Los Angeles last weekend. But on Tuesday he did get to experience the Southern California lifestyle.
“This is my first time that I’ve been late to a press conference,” Manchester United’s new coach said after a tardy arrival at the Rose Bowl. “Los Angeles traffic. I’m sorry for that.”
Time, after all, is something he’s short on. After guiding his native Netherlands to a third-place finish in the World Cup on July 12, Van Gaal is rushing to get up to speed with soccer’s most popular club team, which he’ll coach for the first time Wednesday night at the Rose Bowl when Manchester United meets the Galaxy in an exhibition.
“I want to learn my players, I want to know them,” he said. “Also when I am the coach and I give the orders to my players to play a certain way, I want to see how they perform. I want to give all players the chance to show themselves under my guidance.”
Although Van Gaal is one of the top club coaches in soccer history, having taken teams to championships in three countries, this is his first try at coaching in the English Premier League. And he’ll begin with a team in need of a thorough housecleaning after finishing seventh last season, its worst performance in more than two decades.
That collapse cost David Moyes his job and opened the way for Van Gaal, the team’s fourth coach in 15 months. The team’s makeover has already begun, with United allowing Patrice Evra to leave for Italy, making room for $60-million left back Luke Shaw. Van Gaal must also find room for Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera, who came over from Athletic Bilbao last month, and make roster decisions involving as many as half a dozen other players.
Among those needing to impress the new coach if they too want to stick around are Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa and veteran midfielders Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher, who are both entering the final year of their contracts.
United’s two-week U.S. tour might make all that more difficult, though. Summer trips have become all but mandatory for major European teams, which can pay a lot of bills with the seven-figure guarantees they get for games here. But the players are often asked to mix with fans and sponsors such as Chevrolet, which paid $560 million to have its logo emblazoned on the front of the jersey United will wear for the first time Wednesday.
And those off-field demands are often at odds with the on-field ones.
“We have to prepare [for] the season,” said Van Gaal, whose team will also play three games in the International Champions Cup, meeting AS Roma in Denver on Saturday, Inter Milan next Tuesday in Maryland and Real Madrid at Michigan Stadium on Aug. 2.
“When you have a lot of commercial activities, you have to fly a lot and then you have also a jet lag, that is not very positive for a good preparation,” said Van Gaal, who was hired two months ago. “But the tour was already arranged. So I have to adapt.
“And I shall adapt as Manchester United shall do everything to adapt to my rules for a good preparation.”
For the Galaxy, locked in a tight Major League Soccer playoff race, the friendly comes during a stretch that will see the team play 12 times in 50 days. Yet games such as Wednesday’s also help burnish the team’s reputation internationally while shoring up its bottom line.
“We get a number of things out of this,” Galaxy President Chris Klein said. “For the players it’s a great opportunity to test themselves against the best players in the world. Is this going to make or break our season or make or break some of our players’ seasons? No.
“But I certainly remember games that I played in and guys enjoy these.”
And though the team’s cut won’t match what United will earn, Klein said it will cover more than the cost of gas money to make it from Carson to Pasadena.
“It is financially beneficial,” he said.