Touchline theatrics don't win matches for Dutch master of self-control
Louis van Gaal does not lack a sense of humour after all. Nor is he above apologising to journalists. He did just that at his press conference before today's Liverpool game, though it was nothing to do with losing his rag after the draw at Newcastle when he told one of his critics he was fat.
That spat was not mentioned - much to the relief of all concerned - but on his way out of the room he turned to say he was sorry if anyone had been inconvenienced by increased security measures at the training ground. "We have to do that now," he said. "It's not because I thought anyone might pull a revolver on me."
Maybe the Manchester United manager is trying to make up the perceived charisma gap between himself and his counterpart at Anfield. Van Gaal knows Jurgen Klopp of old. When the German won his first Bundesliga title with Borussia Dortmund, it more or less signalled the end for the Dutch coach at Bayern Munich, who finished third.
Klopp is now considered the one with the more advanced tactical theory, or at least the effect he can have on a team is more visible and positive. Van Gaal's cautious, defence-based possession game seems dull in comparison, and so, to an extent, does the coach himself. Where Klopp is all animation and emotion on the sideline, Van Gaal is expressionless and immobile in his seat.
It would be easy to regard Klopp as the coming man and Van Gaal as the retiring version, though it is not yet clear whether touchline histrionics make a difference to the way the team plays. Boring or not, United are still above Liverpool, and at Newcastle they managed to score three goals. That is partly why Van Gaal was so annoyed. "I was more disappointed than the fans," he said. "I know they haven't seen three goals for a long time, but we lost two points. When you score three goals away from home, you have to hang on for the win."
Now 64, Van Gaal does not feel that leaping around on the periphery would encourage his players to concentrate any better. "I know that from experience," he said. "I used to be a bit like Klopp when I was younger. I'm not sure it got me anywhere. You certainly cannot influence the referee, because the one from the 1995 Champions League final still reminds me of the time I did a flying kick in the air to show the assistant what I thought an opponent had done to Jari Litmanen. I still think it was a penalty, but we didn't get it.
"You cannot make a difference from the line. I don't think referees in England are going to be influenced by what managers do. You need to control your passion. I know a lot of fans like a manager to show it, but the effect on the game is not so important. A manager can try to influence a game by changing players or communicating with them, and sometimes I come to the line to do that, but I don't stand there for 90 minutes."
If this makes Van Gaal sound like a master of self-control, someone who has seen too much in his time to become excited by mere events on the pitch, that is not quite the whole picture either. "At my age you can control your passion more, but not always," the Dutchman said. "Sometimes my passion is bigger than my control. Last weekend I saw myself on TV reacting badly to something. That sometimes happens and I don't think it's good, but it is hard to always stay in control. I think Klopp is the same. I will be doing my best to keep control on Sunday, and so will my players."
Both managers are in favour of possession-based football, the difference is mainly that Van Gaal prefers to concentrate on keeping the ball, and Klopp on winning it back quickly. Liverpool can be expected to launch quick counter-attacks at Anfield, even though they are at home, whereas United will attempt to keep their shape and deny their opponents space to run into.
"At Dortmund, Klopp favoured a very aggressive pressing game, and that is what he is attempting to introduce at Liverpool now," Van Gaal said. "At the time, German teams were not used to that and he had a lot of success. But it should not be overlooked that he had a very strong squad as well. He had Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, and they were all in great shape. He demands a lot of his players, but we all try to make them as fit as possible. As a professional, you have to cope with anything asked of you."
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