Monday 19 February 2018

He's prickly and bullish but Van Gaal may be right man for job

Louis Van Gaal
Louis Van Gaal
Carlo Ancelotti
Diego Simeone

Henry Winter

Louis van Gaal is the type of man who sends Valentine's Day cards to himself.

He loves himself, admires everything he stands for and will enjoy all this talk of being linked to Manchester United. The ego hasn't landed at Old Trafford, and may not if heavyweight candidates like Jurgen Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti can somehow be persuaded to forsake the Champions League, but Van Gaal seems favourite because he is available as well as embodying the qualities United seek.

David Moyes having proved the dour one, United now look for the confident one, a successor with a touch of swagger and a commitment to daring, intelligent football. Someone like Van Gaal, the assured one. The caretaker, Ryan Giggs, clearly a full-time United manager in the future, could accelerate his managerial education working alongside the likes of Van Gaal. Pep Guardiola learned much from Van Gaal.

It seems inevitable that United will go foreign. The frustration that Moyes feels will be echoed across the British coaching community. The Scot's failure is a blow for Largs, for St George's Park, for those coaching hubs where they are developing British coaches. Brendan Rodgers, the Northern Irish shining light at Liverpool, at least continues to prove there is vibrant talent.


The Premier League manager of the year is a battle between Rodgers and Tony Pulis, the Welshman who has not only rescued Crystal Palace but got them 11th. Steve Bruce's Hull City are probably just about safe from relegation, always their first mission this season, and have the joy of an FA Cup final. The likes of Nigel Pearson and Sean Dyche have reached the Premier League.

But the stock of Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce and Paul Lambert has fallen. Tim Sherwood looks likely to leave Spurs in the summer while anything could happen with Garry Monk at Swansea City and Neil Adams at Norwich City. Premier League owners, many of them foreign, will surely be less inclined to entrust their valuable clubs to British managers in the wake of the failed Moyes experience. The betting for his successor, a field led by Van Gaal, reflects that.

United have every right to be slightly cautious of Van Gaal.

Holland's national team manager has not coached at a club since 2011. He is being regularly linked with Spurs. He has hardly distanced himself from current vacancies. The shrewd Van Gaal may be playing some game. Maybe he assumes every club wants him. It all seems slightly unfair on the Dutch FA.

Whether Van Gaal is appointed or not, his most obvious attributes are those United crave. His footballing ethos fits United's attacking philosophy. His strong personality would suit United. They need to re-acquire some of the brio and bullishness that defined life under Alex Ferguson.

Van Gaal certainly offers that. On arriving at Ajax for the first time, he congratulated a director "on signing the best coach in the world". On his first day at Bayern Munich in 2009, he declared: "I am who I am: confident, arrogant, dominant, honest, hard-working and innovative".

When Guardiola, his old Barcelona player, was appointed Bayern coach in 2013, Van Gaal basked in reflected glory. "Guardiola follows the Van Gaal philosophy,'' pronounced the Dutchman. "So I'm not surprised Bayern have hired Guardiola. Bayern always hire the best managers.'' Too arrogant? In truth, United could do with a younger version of Van Gaal, somebody of Klopp's class who does not pick as many fights as the 62-year-old coach.

Van Gaal occasionally falls out with players, eventfully with Rivaldo at Barcelona, and Luca Toni at Bayern Munich. He falls out with boards, particularly at Ajax and Barcelona. He falls out with the media, spectacularly at Barcelona, ending his farewell press conference with bouquets replaced by barbed wire.

Van Gaal's prickly, self-regarding, but he's very good. He has all the European nous that Moyes lacked. He learned under Leo Beenhakker at Ajax, and his formative years came in the era of Total football. He makes good players like Arjen Robben better.

Eloquent in three or four languages, Van Gaal speaks excellent English, although the word modesty does not appear in his broad vocabulary. He talks of players coming up to him and saying "how great it is to work" with him. That didn't really happen with United players under Moyes.

His way is 4-3-3, the Dutch way, with his current Holland side, but he varies, playing 4-2-3-1 at times at Bayern. He has argued frequently that it depends on the players available.

"I played 4-3-3 with Ajax, 2-3-2-3 with Barcelona and a 4-4-2 with AZ,'' he once remarked. "I'm flexible.'' He'd make United more exciting.

Van Gaal's teams have always played with style and belief, traits United fans want returning to Old Trafford. A DVD of Ajax's Champions League triumph in 1995 will surely feature in any interview. At the start of that season, Van Gaal predicted his young Ajax team would win the Champions League. United's board will note his commitment to youth in that team with the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Jari Litmanen, Marc Overmars, Frank and Ronald de Boer. You'll win nothing with kids? United fans have heard that before.

Compared to Moyes' inhibited nature on the touchline, Van Gaal was the master of the grand gesture, even doing an imaginary karate kick when Marcel Desailly got away with a crazy, high challenge on Litmanen in Vienna. His tactical intelligence was clear in the way he outwitted Fabio Capello, particularly with his bold substitutions with the score at 0-0.

He sent on Kanu for Seedorf, and then Patrick Kluivert for Litmanen. Kluivert was 18, largely untried but he rolled the mighty Franco Baresi, slipping ahead of Zvonimir Boban to settle the final. Yet Van Gaal's crowning glory came 19 years ago. United should try for Klopp first and then return to Van Gaal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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