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."
'This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions. Together I'm sure we will make history.' - Louis van Gaal, in a statement released by United
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 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 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.
"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."
Giggs officially retires
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.
After 13 league titles, two Champions Leagues, 963 appearances and many more amazing memories, Giggs brought an end to his incredible 23-year playing career.
"For me, today is new chapter filled with many emotions — immense pride, sadness, but most of all, excitement towards the future," the 40-year-old Giggs said.
Giggs will go down as one of the greatest players in the Premier League's 22-year history. He is certainly its most durable, playing in every season since the league inception in 1992 — first as a flying left winger before refining his game to play deeper in midfield.
His match-clinching solo goal in the FA Cup semifinal replay against Arsenal in 1999, where he set off from inside his own half, ran around three defenders and slammed a shot into the roof of the net, has gone down as one of the greatest goals in English football. His famous shirt-swinging celebration as he sprinted, bare-chested, along the touchline at Villa Park is also part of FA Cup lore.
That will probably be his career highlight on a personal level but he was always more of a team man, one of the most valuable players in United's successful, trophy-laden era under Ferguson, who protected Giggs as a youngster after poaching him from neighbour Manchester City and allowed him to thrive.
"My dream was always to play for Manchester United, and although it saddens me to know I won't be pulling on a United jersey again as a player, I have been lucky enough to have fulfilled that dream playing with some of the best players in the world, working under an incredible manager in Sir Alex Ferguson, and most of all, playing for the greatest fans in world football."
Giggs also won four FA Cups, three League Cups, one UEFA Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and a Club World Cup. Last season was the only one in his career where he failed to score a Premier League goal, leaving his career haul at 168 in all competitions.