Van Gaal vision leaves no room for self-doubt
WHEN Louis van Gaal swanned into Sabener Strasse last July to take the reins of Bayern Munich, he did so in a manner so grand as to make even his most celebrated pupil, Jose Mourinho, appear a shrinking violet.
Half-inching the club's celebrated mantra and breaking into what seemed improbably fluent German for a Dutchman who had just had the briefest crash course, he told his rapt audience: "The Bavarian lifestyle fits me like a warm coat. Mia San Mia -- we are who we are -- and I am who I am.
"Self-confident, arrogant, dominant, honest, industrious, innovative. But also warm and familiar." Alleluia!
For a club who had recently mislaid their superiority complex, here was a cocksure impresario ready to put the tinsel back into FC Hollywood.
Bayern were unconvinced about the "warm and familiar" bit and fancied they already knew about the "arrogant" part but these days, like so many have found before, they have rediscovered all the other old adjectives for Aloysius Paulus Maria 'Louis' van Gaal. Like barking, bristling and brilliant.
A great coach has given a club back their swagger and the confidence to feel that Manchester United really are about to be toppled.
When Van Gaal insisted that he would not put a euro on Bayern to win the Champions League for the first time since 2001, Munich did not believe him simply because they know he believes in himself implicitly.
It is the quality that persuaded United themselves to offer him the chance to take over from his great admirer, Alex Ferguson, in 2002 until Fergie's great U-turn. How do we know this?
Well, Van Gaal, whose brain can offer lessons in practically everything but false modesty, told everyone last autumn as if it would have been the most natural succession in the world.
Watching king Louis in action in Munich, it is easy to imagine why he might have fitted Old Trafford's bill. A serial winner (15 major trophies), short-tempered, always right, stubborn to the point of bloody-mindedness and not prepared to suffer fools at all, never mind gladly. Remind you of anyone?
He is a man worth persevering with. He can wind people up, make them feel like they are kids and be the unbending schoolteacher. "Rivaldo, do as I'm saying," he would supposedly bellow exasperatedly at a wandering but put-out genius at the Nou Camp.
But give Van Gaal time, listen to him -- like his young Barca assistant, Mourinho, did with some reverence -- then behold wonders. He created a dynasty at Ajax and might have done at Barca if not for the heinous crime of failing to win a third straight La Liga title.
Bayern now understand. Fitting them like a warm coat? To start with, he seemed wrapped in his old barbed wire, upsetting all and sundry.
Luca Toni was sent on his bike, his captain, Philipp Lahm, grumbled and Van Gaal's rigid tactical instructions took so long to bed in that, as Bayern lay sixth after 11 matches, the hierarchy were already muttering about a Christmas "review" should they be eliminated at Juventus.
But then came a 4-1 trouncing of Juve, a job saved and a tsunami of confidence launched.
At the start of last month Bayern beat Hamburg to go back to the top of the Bundesliga for the first time in 652 days. 'Mia San Mia' was spelt out in giant fireworks on the Allianz Arena pitch to mark an end to what felt like an eternity of underachievement.
They were then knocked off the top by Schalke only for Van Gaal to note sniffily that the challengers would lose their bottle.
On Saturday Schalke did, losing at home to Van Gaal's crew. The man is what he is; nearly always right. (© Daily Telegraph, London)