Louis van Gaal doesn’t need a rest. After guiding the Netherlands to a highly respectable third-placed finish at the World Cup, he immediately started work at Manchester United.
His first press conference as boss was impressive as he almost palmed off each question from the gathered journalists with unbelievable arrogance. There is no doubt that Van Gaal’s handling of his own emotions is up to scratch but now he must translate this swagger over to the squad he has inherited.
The Dutchman has vowed to give every squad member an opportunity to prove their ability to him but it is almost certain that United will dip into their hefty transfer kitty. Although the Red Devils are now on their pre-season tour of the USA, the transfer speculation has not shown any sign of halting. After a seventh place finish last season, the squad needs an overhaul. Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera have already been added this summer but as Van Gaal stated on Thursday, those deals would have happened even if he hadn’t have taken the job.
United have taken just three central midfielders on their tour, showing that after Michael Carrick’s injury, they are absolutely desperate for reinforcements in that area of the field, if they weren’t already. Talk of a bid for Arturo Vidal of Juventus shows no sign of stopping but it remains to be seen if Ed Woodward can mastermind that one. He was certainly confident when he was asked about any imminent transfers by MUTV on Sunday, stating that we should “watch this space.”
Another major area of concern is in the centre of United’s leaky defence. They have lost a staggering amount of experience in that position following the departures of stalwarts Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand at the end of last season, meaning it is virtually guaranteed that Van Gaal will move for a centre half to challenge Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling for the two central defensive berths.
Reports on Sunday suggested that Feyenoord and Netherlands defender Stefan De Vrij has his heart set on a move to Man United and a reunion with Van Gaal, after the Dutch club rejected a £5million bid from Lazio. De Vrij started every game at the World Cup and was in many people’s team of the tournament, impressing in the middle of their defence throughout the competition. Not only will the relatively cheap asking price of around £10million appeal to United but the fact the Van Gaal has coached De Vrij before, will surely work in his favour.
De Vrij displayed excellent tactical awareness in both a back three and a back four in Brazil, flexibility which undoubtedly appeals to Van Gaal. He is both commanding and confident whilst in possession of the ball. De Vrij has no problem playing out from the back, having been taught these skills from a young age at Feyenoord. Last season, he completed 87% of his attempted passes and backed that up at the World Cup with an 86% accuracy rate.
At 22-years-old, there is plenty of time for De Vrij to develop his game and become one of the leading defenders in Europe. There is no better place to do that than at United and with Van Gaal there, you can see why he would want to go to Old Trafford. The Dutch defender rarely makes an error leading to an attempt on goal. In fact, in his 32 Eredivisie appearances and seven World Cup matches, De Vrij made just one error leading directly to a goal for the opposition.
Not only is he comfortable in possession, but his size and stature is definitely suited to the English game too. De Vrij can be physical when he needs to be and is capable of dominating an aerial battle, as his 59% aerial success rate last season shows. The Feyenoord man is not afraid to get stuck in either, winning 56% of his 103 attempted tackles and completing nine defensive actions (clearances, interceptions and blocked shots) per game on average in his club’s run to a second-place finish in the Eredivisie.
When you compare De Vrij’s stats from last season to United’s three current central defenders, the possible transfer becomes all the more appealing to the Old Trafford faithful. Although admittedly, the Dutch league isn’t as strong as the Premier League, he was much more consistent than Evans, Smalling and Jones statistically, recording a higher Performance Score per game and completing more tackles per game than all three. Only Jones completed more interceptions per game and made fewer errors, showing that not only is De Vrij impressive both tactically and physically but also statistically.
United could do much worse than buying a young defender like De Vrij for a very reasonable price of around £10million. He may not be a huge name but he is talented, and, at just 22-years-old, has potential to develop into a fine defender. Although he is relatively unproven at club level, the Dutch international showed that he can perform on the biggest stage at the World Cup.
De Vrij is capable of making the step up from Feyenoord to United and should the Red Devils swoop for his services, Van Gaal will have pulled off a tremendous coup considering the price.