Double training sessions. Downgraded hotel reservations. Meals taken together, with food served according to Louis van Gaal’s dietary guidelines. Only English to be spoken on the pitch.
Goodness knows what would happen if a Manchester United player pulled a Jack Wilshere and lit up a cigarette while on holiday. The manager would almost certainly expect more than an apology.
Certainly van Gaal is aware of the tough road he must climb. United finished seventh last season, and although both Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw have been brought in, they’ve yet to reinforce the squad with the players necessary to truly challenge for the Premier League title. Plus, the new manager needs to ensure that his squad is adjusting to his favored style, a 3-5-2 formation that Juan Mata believes could take up to two months to master.
So discipline is necessary. For the first leg of United’s pre-season tour, van Gaal insisted that the Holiday Inn be booked so that players could eat and rest after morning training, then be available for the afternoon’s second session. It is unclear whether they returned to their swooshy Beverly Wilshire Hotel for their nightly shut-eye, however.
New hotels have also been booked in Washington D.C. and Detroit, ensuring United will be able to continue with their double sessions. In Denver, it was imperative that the hotel contain an area where the players could all be seated together as they ate, with their meals made to van Gaal’s specifications.
None of this is new, of course. Players are meant to train intensely, and ever since Arsène Wenger arrived in the Premier League, much more attention has been given to their diet. The way it’s being covered, however, suggests that David Moyes, and possibly even Sir Alex Ferguson, didn’t put quite as much emphasis on discipline in the squad.
That discipline has even been carried over to the pitch, with players ordered to speak only English while on the field. The way Mata says, “The manager says we have to speak in English,” implies such a rule did not exist last season. It makes sense when you think about van Gaal’s insistence that the team focus on unity — a common language is likely needed to ensure the team is moving as one.
Will this sort of discipline be enough for Manchester United to mount a title challenge? Or is there still other work that needs to be done?