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Biography: King Louis van Gaal is the Iron Tulip

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Louis van Gaal: "I will deliver"

Louis van Gaal: "I will deliver"

Maarten Meijer has written biographies of other Dutch bosses

Maarten Meijer has written biographies of other Dutch bosses

Author Linda Grant

Author Linda Grant

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Louis van Gaal: "I will deliver"

Losing to Swansea was a bad start, but Louis van Gaal could turn out to be Manchester United's saviour if this new biography is right, says Max Lui

If Louis van Gaal is Manchester United's saviour, then how come - in all the years of speculation about who would eventually succeed Alex Ferguson - the 'Iron Tulip' was seldom mentioned? Had United stuck with David Moyes, the Dutchman who steered the Netherlands to this summer's World Cup semi-finals would probably now be managing Tottenham

Maarten Meijer's clear, comprehensive biography offers a clue as to why Van Gaal wasn't always top of the Old Trafford wanted list: his career has been characterised by fluctuating fortunes, with remarkable triumphs earning him respect as one of the world's greatest coaches and miserable failures leading commentators to write him off as stubborn and abrasive.

Losing to Swansea was a bad start, but Van Gaal may yet be United's right man at the right time: a comeback king to restore glory following Moyes' disastrous reign.

Van Gaal's successes include winning the Champions League with Ajax and league titles with Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Sackings by Barcelona and Bayern are among his disappointments, as is failing to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in his first stint with the Netherlands. Now 63, he has expressed forthright views since the days when he taught PE at the same time as playing in midfield for Ajax reserves and Sparta Rotterdam where, according to his manager: "He gave the impression that he personally had invented the game of football."

Meijer, who has written books about managers Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat, draws on a broad range of sources to create a thorough portrait of his "control freak" subject. It will whet the appetites of United fans who were encouraged by Van Gaal's management of the Netherlands in Brazil, but they shouldn't expect immediate miracles, as Van Gaal made slow starts at Barcelona and Bayern.

Both teams, however, gelled before Christmas and went 
on to win league titles in his first seasons in charge. For Van Gaal, teamwork is everything: "I don't need the 11 best, I need the best 11."

Van Gaal champions youth and has developed the talents of several world beaters, including Andrés Iniesta and Thomas Müller. It will be intriguing to see if he unearths stars from United's junior ranks. 
He gets on "quite well" with Ferguson, who remains influential at Old Trafford, but if the paperback edition of this biography appears with an afterword about Van Gaal winning the Premier League, nothing else will matter. Everyone connected with United will probably echo what one journalist says about this Dutch master: "He is a little full of himself, but who cares?"

Louis van Gaal

Maarten Meijer

Ebury Press, hdbk, 320 pages, £12.99

Available with free P&P on 
www.kennys.ie or 
by calling 091 709350

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Seventies radicalism comes to life in a university novel

Reconsidering moments that changed everything is an old chestnut in fiction, but Linda Grant manages it with verve in this excellent novel. For university students in Britain, the 1970s was an age of innocence with government grants giving them a privileged way of life "suited to Renaissance philosopher-kings".

Adele is born into a Jewish family in Liverpool; her father a small-time crook, her mother an advocate of marriage and a job at the perfume counter. Adele gets a place at a concrete university.

A utopia of breeze blocks, it is modelled on the University of York, where Grant was an undergraduate.

Then F R Leavis wanders in, his shirt unbuttoned too far. Adele, a reader of The Bell Jar and The Female Eunuch, finds herself among earnest students who organise feminist "consciousness-raising groups". The college personalities are an ethereal couple known collectively as Evie/Stevie, who celebrate their androgyny by dressing in identical white dungarees and Dr Martens - and whose story will trouble for 40 years.

With its hindsight about tragic events and paths not taken, the novel has similarities to Julian Barnes's 2011 Booker winner, The Sense of an Ending. It has a similar insistence on reshaping the past, how information that wasn't available first time around could have changed the entire story.

There are plenty of compelling portraits of Adele's contemporaries, including her gay best friend, full of bravado and glamour. A summer spent in Cornwall is wonderfully evocative of certain "hippie gobbledegook".

It becomes a little snippety as Adele visits each of her old friends in late middle-age; the Trotskyite sociologist has become a life peer in the House of Lords and the Laura Ashley-styled viola enthusiast has been spat out by various fanaticisms.

Straight-talking but far from straightforward in its observations, Upstairs at the Party's portrait of an era is convincing, its subtle cynicism regarding the pitfalls of freedom something to mull over.

- Lucy Daniel

Upstairs at 
the Party

Linda Grant

Virago, tpbk, 320 pages, £14.99

Available with free P&P on www.kennys. ie 
or by calling 091 709350

 

Night Runner : Hero sucked into danger by criminals

Tim Bowler

You're in assured hands with a Young Adult novel from Tim Bowler - he's written 20 books for teenagers and won 15 awards, including the Carnegie Medal. In Night Runner, teenager Zinny gets sucked into a life of crime after realising his family is in danger. Zinny is surrounded by rotten adults, including his abusive father, and there is a touching scene in which he has to help his father get dressed after another night on the booze has left his hands "like jelly".

Zinny is a sympathetic hero and the action does not falter as his life comes under threat from criminal gangs. Well-written and solidly plotted, the story doesn't collapse under the weight of the violence.

The minor characters - such as the school bully Spink and headmaster Mr Latham - are interesting in their own right. And the ending is pretty uplifting, too.

Oxford University Press, pbk, 
208 pages, £6.99

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie 
or by calling 091 709350

 

Smart

Kim Slater

When Kieran finds a dead body in the river, and police dismiss suspicions of foul play, he jumps at the chance to prove that an old homeless man has been murdered.

We know that Kieran has learning difficulties but we don't learn much about his condition. He just says: "I am a bit different to other people". There are, of course, echoes of Mark Haddon's award-winning novel about an autistic boy, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

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Pan Macmillan, pbk, 240 pages, £8.99

Available with 
free P&P on 
www.kennys.ie 
or by calling 091 709350

- Martin Chilton

 

 


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