Rumours persist that Louis van Gaal is a possible Spurs’ target in the summer. If the legendary Dutch coach did come to Tottenham, what sort of manager he might be?
“Am I still in contact with Spurs? There will come a moment that I can talk about that.”
Daniel Levy held talks with Louis van Gaal after the departure of AVB. At the time the Dutch coach didn’t want to combine a full time management position with his current job as Netherlands head coach. He will lead his country to the World Cup in Brazil this summer but could be available afterwards. He has hinted he would like a crack at the Premier League before he retires and Levy is obviously an admirer. A negative may be that at 62 he is quite old to be starting a new challenge.
“Everyone needs to work together to achieve a common goal. Preparing your tactical formation is essential. Each player needs to know where he has to be, and that is why there needs to be mutual understanding because you need absolute discipline.”
Van Gaal joined Ajax at the age of 20 in 1972. He never made the first team, which is no embarrassment given that it contained some of the greats of world football (including Cruyff and Neeskens). Nevertheless, it was his early experiences there that forged his footballing identity.
Van Gaal’s philosophy is very similar to Cruyff’s and the tenets of “total football” – possession is vital, when the other team has the ball a high pressing game is key. The main difference between his style and Cruyff’s is an emphasis on the team rather than the individual. He is a disciplinarian who expects every player to do their job. This can rub players up the wrong way but equally many have enjoyed working with him.
“Congratulations on signing the best coach in the world.”
Van Gaal has never lacked confidence, some might say arrogance, but he does back up his claims. This quote was a comment made to a director on signing his first contract as a head coach at Ajax. Despite being new to the job, Ajax dominated Dutch football winning the Eredivisie on three occasions during his six year tenure (1991-1997). They also won the Dutch Cup and provided a large proportion of the Dutch national team, including such luminaries as Marc Overmars, Edgar Davids and Dennis Bergkamp.
This dominance didn’t just stop at Dutch football. Van Gaal’s Ajax won the 1992 UEFA Cup and reached back to back Champions League finals, lifting the trophy in 1995 when they beat AC Milan to become champions of Europe. In 1996 they missed out on becoming the first club to win successive titles in the Champions League era by the smallest of margins, losing a penalty shootout to Juventus.
- “I’m not the kind of coach who just goes out and buys players for the sake of it. I’m a coach who wants to – and can – improve players.”
Van Gaal has a history of encouraging young players at the clubs he has worked at. His first stint as Ajax boss saw him bring through talents such as Patrick Kluivert, the De Boer brothers, Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids. While at Bayern Munich he introduced several youth team players to the first XI including Thomas Müller and Holger Badstuber, giving the German national squad a helping hand in the process. At Barcelona he introduced Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol to the first team, helping to lay the foundations of the Barcelona and Spanish sides that have dominated world football.
He has helped improve other high profile players, most notably rejuvenating the career of Bastien Schweinsteiger by moving him from the wing to the centre of midfield; now he is the engine room for Bayern and Germany. This is the kind of coach you need if you don’t have a petrochemical billionaire to bankroll you.
“Amigos de la prensa, yo me voy. Felicidades.” – “Friends of the press, I’m leaving. Congratulations.”
Van Gaal is a combustible character and has often had a difficult relationship with the press, fans and players. Never more so than during his time as Barcelona head coach (1997-2000). He won back to back La Liga titles and the Copa del Rey, and made it to the Champions League semi-finals, but never felt truly accepted. He found it difficult to implement his philosophy citing cultural differences, and he fell out with several players. Famously he argued with star Brazilian striker Rivaldo after trying to make him play on the left wing.
The quote above was his ironic goodbye message to the media at his final press conference.
“Am I the one who’s so smart, or are you so stupid?”
Most places he’s managed van Gaal has had a fraught relationship with the media. He regularly abuses journalists in press conferences and threatens to walk out. This quote was aimed at a journalist who asked a question van Gaal took exception too. If he comes to Tottenham be prepared for fireworks.
“It was said to me that Alex Ferguson was going to retire. The moment he’d go, I’d succeed him. But in the end Ferguson didn’t want to quit!”
Alex Ferguson finally retired last summer after an unprecedented 26 years at the helm of Manchester United. He was afforded that rare luxury amongst managers – the opportunity to pick the manner of his departure – but it all could have ended so much earlier.
Ferguson announced he would retire once before, at the start of the 2001-2002 season. Van Gaal had apparently spoken with the United chief executive, Peter Kenyon, and was expecting to replace the Scot when he stood down. The problem was Ferguson changed his mind, announcing in February 2002 that he was staying on.
“Pep was not the oldest and was way down in the hierarchy … but Pep saw the game and had the communication skills to structure the team, both on the pitch and in the dressing room.”
It was van Gaal who made Pep Guardiola captain at Barcelona despite the presence of several more obvious candidates. Guardiola is a fan of his and he can take some of the credit for Barcelona’s style of possession football and aggressive pressing.
In his autobiography Guardiola described watching Ajax: “My jaw dropped when I saw Van Gaal’s Ajax play, they did everything a football team should do perfectly in my eyes.” High praise indeed from the modern heir to “total football” and it is no surprise Pep chose another former van Gaal project, Bayern Munich, as his destination after Barcelona.
“The Bavarian attitude to life suits me perfectly. Why? Bayern’s motto is ‘Mia san mia,’ ‘We are who we are’ and I am who I am: confident, arrogant, dominant, honest, hard-working and innovative.”
A perfect summary of van Gaal, he said this after joining Bayern in 2009. In Munich he got off to a slow start and was on the brink of being dismissed. He turned things around in dramatic style, winning a German league and cup double and reaching another Champions League final. There Bayern were beaten by an Inter Milan side coached by Jose Mourinho, van Gaal’s former assistant at Barcelona.
The next season things went wrong, his relationship with the club hierarchy soured and he ended up being sacked halfway through the campaign.
“Ich bin ein Prozesstrainer und brauche Zeit” – “I am a “process trainer” and I need time.”
As mentioned above, at Bayern things didn’t start well. Results were poor and there was immense pressure on van Gaal. When defending his methods he explained that he was a “process trainer”. By this he meant that it takes time to teach his way of playing, it requires methodical training and practice. Time is not something managers get in the modern Premier League. Will Daniel Levy have patience if initial results are disappointing? Will the fans stick with a “stubborn, arrogant, foreign coach” if we’re not winning?
“For me, personally, this championship will be my greatest little masterpiece.”
Dutch football has long been dominated by the “big three” a triumvirate of clubs that have won the Eredivisie title in all but four of the last 50 seasons – PSV, Feyenoord and Ajax. When van Gaal took charge of AZ Alkmar, no team outside this elite group had prevailed since 1981. In 2009, AZ broke 28 years of domination by winning the league for the second time in their history.
A coach who can take a team of perennial also-rans to their first title in decades sounds promising to me.
- “I’ve signed a contract with the Dutch national team until 2006, so I can win the World Cup not once but twice.”
Van Gaal’s one great failure was the time he spent in charge of the Dutch national team from 2000 to 2002. Holland finished third in their group behind Portugal and the Republic of Ireland. Van Gaal took the blame and resigned.
In 2012 he was given a second chance, an opportunity for redemption. This time Holland sailed through qualification unbeaten, winning nine and drawing one. They topped their group by nine points; Van Gaal had left nothing to chance. He will lead his team to Brazil with a real chance at winning the biggest title of them all.
|Louis van Gaal Books on Amazon|
|Louis van Gaal biography||His coaching philosphy|
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