The players also seemed gripped of spontaneity and gripped by fear of attempting the unexpected, an image and ethos at odds - perhaps one from a more romantic and silver-tinged past - casting United as the great swashbucklers, willing to concede goals on the basis of out-scoring opponents.
Van Gaal often cut a remote figure from his players - especially during games and did the sight of the stone-faced manager making notes on his trademark clipboard while never venturing near the touchline have an affect on the team?
It was an image Van Gaal never shook off and was reflected in a United team that seemed regimented to the point of tedium making visiting Old Trafford to watch the Reds a miserable experience and one that was not sustainable after the torpor of Moyes.
No manager should ever be measured by his touchline animation, but Van Gaal expended more energy writing notes on his clipboard that he ever did offering advice and tactical pointers during a game.
When any member of his backroom staff- usually assistant Ryan Giggs- was seen in the technical area, it came as a surprise.
Van Gaal could not connect with supporters or, on many occasions, his players.
The Dutchman seemed cocksure yet often confused- he talked the talk but yet, when it came to carrying his convictions, he was found wanting.
The master coach offered muddled thinking, never more obvious than when he called Nick Powell out of obscurity to replace string-puller Juan Mata with the team chasing a result in Wolfsburg to stay in the Champions League.
Maybe Van Gaal simply came too late to the Premier League and was too fixed in his ways- or too stubborn- to ever adapt to the modern demands of England's top flight.
The Moyes era was instantly derailed by transfer indecision that saw multiple targets chased and then missed.
United could not be accused of failing to back Van Gaal.
Yet we were no further forward and no more pleasing on the eye, despite spending in the region of £200 million during Van Gaal's tenure (although the net spend including sales is less than half that figure).
There was no shortage of ambition but it was a scattergun approach rather than a structured strategy.
Angel Di Maria was signed for £59m but never settled, Radamel Falcao was cursed by injury and Van Gaal's recruitment was questionable.
There were successes but nowhere near enough to save Van Gaal.