LONDON • Louis van Gaal has admitted that he has altered his approach after being "alarmed" when Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick complained about the "flat" atmosphere in the Manchester United dressing room.
The United manager on Friday appeared to suggest that the problems had been caused in part by the club's high turnover of players in the past year and issues concerning two players in particular.
They are the goalkeepers Victor Valdes and David de Gea, who on Thursday signed a four-year contract 11 days after a proposed move to Real Madrid collapsed.
Yet, in an animated defence of his methods, van Gaal insisted that he was "not a dictator but a communicator". He claimed that he has a "superb relationship" with his players.
This followed revelations in The Times that the manager had been confronted by Rooney, the United captain, and Carrick, the vice-captain, about his regimented training methods that they fear are stifling creativity at a club renowned for attacking football.
Van Gaal said he has responded to the warnings by adapting the way he delivers his game plan before matches and encouraging players to provide feedback. All that is evidence, he said, of his open-door policy and willingness to listen.
"It's a positive thing that the players are coming to me and not only Carrick or Rooney," said the Dutchman, who described Rooney as the best captain he has ever had.
"In my career as a manager, I didn't have so many players who were coming to say something about the atmosphere in the dressing room, about the way we train or something like that, so it's very positive. Then you know they trust you.
"I have changed the way that I deliver the game plan to them, for example. Now I ask in advance and they can say what they want.
"Most of the strategy is always the same because they like the way we have done it."
Yet, van Gaal hinted that the treatment of de Gea - a popular figure among the players - and Valdes had been an issue in the dressing room.
The manager's claim that de Gea did not want to play against Tottenham Hotspur on the opening day of the season and van Gaal's refusal to consider the goalkeeper for selection were not well-received.
The United boss has also ostracised Valdes since the former Barcelona custodian refused to play in a reserve match last season.
"The whole dressing room has been changed (over the past year). Can you imagine when your friend must leave - and what are your feelings?" said the manager.
"So Rooney and Carrick came to me and said, 'The dressing room is flat and we want to say that to you because we want to help you'.
"Then I have paid so much attention. So I go to the dressing room to communicate with my players and we have discussed a lot.
"I think that I have a superb relationship with my players."
As well as concerns about training methods, United's squad are understood to have been frustrated by lengthy video sessions overseen by Max Reckers, the club's performance analyst. But van Gaal defended his use of them.
"I have read there are a lot of meetings. Yes, that's the philosophy," he said. "That you've to make an analysis of the opponents, then you need a meeting to show that.
"Then you have to make a game plan, then you have to hold a meeting about the game plan. Then you have to practise. Then we have to discuss with the players, on the pitch, how they feel. And maybe we have to change. And when they have good arguments, we change."
Asked why he had not picked up on the concerns beforehand, the Dutchman said: "I could not because, normally, the coach doesn't come into the dressing room because I think it's protected for them and they can do what they want."
THE TIMES, LONDON