Van Gaal can spark Rooney
MAN UNITED 3
(Wayne Rooney 55, Juan Mata 57, Jesse Lingard 88)
(Steven Gerrard 14-pen)
Louis van Gaal slapped his skipper on the back, established firm eye contact and shouted his praises over the boisterous North American crowd.
Wayne Rooney melted, his eyes caught in his manager's gaze. He giggled like a schoolboy being complimented by his teacher; a puppy gleefully returning a stick to his master.
In that moment, Rooney regressed to the back streets of Liverpool, playing to please the big boys, playing for fun.
Ordinarily, he's a walking, scowling muscular ball of belligerence. Yesterday morning (Singapore time), he was beaming proudly in anticipation of a paternal pat on the head.
The pre-season tournament was mostly Mickey Mouse, but his ear-to-ear smile suggested he had found the keys to the magic kingdom.
Finally, perhaps, he has a manager who understands him; a man after his own brutish, egotistical heart.
There is nothing between van Gaal and Rooney except a mirror. Familiarity can breed contempt. In this instance, it should breed control.
Van Gaal understands what he has inherited from his timid successor; a brilliant, inspirational pit-bull of petulance. Offer a hand of friendship and Rooney will tear it off, spit it across the Old Trafford turf and demand a 50 per cent pay rise for his time and effort.
When van Gaal congratulated Rooney after another influential performance led United to a 3-1 victory over Liverpool in the International Champions Cup, he could have been mistaken for thinking he was staring at a younger, volatile, unforgiving version of himself.
The Dutch autocrat will never tolerate the tantrums and tiaras that tarnished Rooney's reputation under both Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes because he doesn't have to.
Manchester United aren't big enough for two megalomaniacs and the club's willingness to accede to van Gaal's demands - from planting trees at the training ground to revising tour schedules - suggests that the manager has already won the war.
But Moyes was different.
He tried too hard, succumbing to step-dad syndrome in trying to please someone else's offspring. He struggled to assert his authority and remained an unpopular guardian.
Rooney smelled weakness faster than primary school kids sniffing out a nervous relief teacher.
With Moyes practically scrawling "love me, love me" on his forehead, Rooney took the leash off voracious agent Paul Stretford and let him sink his teeth into the old manager.
When Stretford returned with a four-year contract extension for Rooney worth £300,000 ($630,000) a week - not including endorsement add-ons - the kid owned his jittery step-father.
Good, bad or indifferent - and there were times when Rooney was all three last season - United's striker had a huge pay cheque in one pocket and his manager in the other. To all intents and purposes, he owned Moyes.
Van Gaal, on the other, can hardly contain his indifference to Rooney's reputation within the English game, his career or his bank balance.
His outlook isn't impaired by the English Premier League's insular, inflated sense of self-worth. He doesn't see England's great white hope or the proverbial British bulldog. He sees a 28-year-old striker with a battered body of twisted muscle whose past glories are not being repeated.
For van Gaal, what's past is prologue. So his reasoning is simple. If Rooney plays well, he captains the side. If his form drops, he's out. There are no grey areas, no concessions to reputation or salary. His no-nonsense approach might just be the making of Rooney.
Like the kid in the classroom who finally accepts the new teacher cannot be distracted or intimidated, he is taking the only option left to him; he's knuckling down.
Not only is the new teacher an unyielding disciplinarian, he also happens to have really cool stories and anecdotes about his successful stints at other schools. He's that one, enigmatic teacher than even the class bullies secretly want to please.
Robin van Persie shared a similar relationship with both Ferguson at United and van Gaal at the World Cup, which was most clearly evident when he dashed past his teammates to celebrate his flying header with that exuberant high-five.
Rooney was equally keen to earn his new manager's gratitude yesterday. A finely-taken goal was his third of the tournament - his fifth in total on United's US tour - and he was named the event's top player. That's all he can do to capture van Gaal's attention.
The days of stomping his feet and demanding a transfer are done. Form is Rooney's only friend now. His coach does not succumb to sulking.
If Rooney indulges in a game of brinkmanship for a third time - after winning two previous contract contests with Ferguson and Moyes - there is only going to be one winner.
The real ego has landed in the United dugout. Even Rooney can't compete with that. But he can still compete on the pitch.
This could be the start of a beautifully brittle friendship.
MOMENTUM ON UNITED'S SIDE
Louis van Gaal thinks Manchester United are primed to start the season with a bang after their near-perfect tour of the United States.
When Van Gaal retires, winning the International Champions Cup will not rank among his greatest achievements.
The Dutchman already has 16 winner's medals of greater prestige, but the importance of winning this money-spinning pre-season tournament cannot be discounted.
Van Gaal's team won the final of the eight-team competition yesterday morning (Singapore time), when they beat Liverpool 3-1, thanks to goals from Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard.
United beat Roma, Inter Milan (on penalties after a 0-0 draw) and Real Madrid en route to the final, so van Gaal is in an optimistic mood ahead of his first season in the English Premier League.
"This will give us momentum, for sure," the United manager said.
"It's always better to win."
Steven Gerrard's penalty gave Liverpool the lead at a rain-soaked Sun Life Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, after Phil Jones had clattered into Raheem Sterling in the box.
Sterling continued to cause United problems and he should have had a penalty, when Ander Herrera pulled him down in the box just before half-time.
But United rode the storm and equalised, when Javier Hernandez found Rooney at the back post and he beat Simon Mignolet with a well-taken volley.
Two minutes later, Mata's shot flew past Mignolet via a deflection off Mamadou Sakho.
And, in the dying minutes, Lingard put the result beyond doubt when he converted Ashley Young's cross.
Afterwards, van Gaal singled out Rooney, who was named Player of the Tournament for scoring three goals, for praise.
"The goal was very important for him," said van Gaal.
"It was a wonderful goal when you see the attack and what he did to push the ball under the legs of the opponent and also into the corner of the goal.
"It was a great cross from Chicharito (Hernandez) also. It was a very good attack."
Rooney captained United for the first time on the tour, which took United to Los Angeles, Denver, Washington DC, Detroit and finally to Florida.
Darren Fletcher was named skipper in the other two International Champions Cup games, while Tom Cleverley was given the honour of captaining the side in the 7-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Van Gaal has to decide who will captain United next season, but he was giving little away on whether it would be Rooney.
"I'm always looking for opportunities to give players the captain's armband," said van Gaal, who is thought to be considering Robin van Persie and Jonny Evans as serious candidates too.
"Today, Rooney played for the first time 90 minutes. Fletcher has already done it twice, therefore he was the captain.
"Cleverley also played 90 minutes. I think you have to choose, when it is possible, the English style. But it has to be possible." - PA Sport.