Man United hires Van Gaal; Barca tabs Luis Enrique

AP

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal was hired as Manchester United manager on Monday, tasked with repairing the damage from David Moyes’ disappointing 10 months in charge and reviving the fortunes of one of the world’s biggest clubs.

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 tournaments 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 soccer 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 managers 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 soccer 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.

Challenge awaits

Barcelona Spain AP

Barcelona hired Luis Enrique as its new manager on Monday, hoping the former player can help restore the club’s recent success following its first season in six years without a major trophy.

Barcelona said on its website that Enrique agreed to a two-year deal, but did not disclose further details. He will replace Argentine coach Gerardo Martino, who stepped down on Saturday immediately after the club failed to defend its Spanish League title.

The 44-year-old Enrique is one of the few players to have had successful careers with both Real Madrid and Barcelona, having left the former in 1996 to join its archrival. He stayed at Barcelona until 2004.

He had been widely expected to be appointed as the club’s new manager after stepping down from his position at Celta Vigo last week, and will restore a line of in-house managers most recently continued by Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova.

Barcelona also ensured on Monday that star Lionel Messi would remain the centerpiece of its squad after finalizing an extension of his contract that will reportedly make the club’s all-time leading scorer the world’s highest-paid soccer player.

The 26-year-old Messi will earn a reported $27 million per season with further incentives able to drive the deal up to $34 million per year until the contract ends in 2017-18.

Enrique will be tasked with rekindling the competitive edge that Messi and his teammates lacked at critical moments throughout the season.