Van Gaal demands special respect
An audience with Louis van Gaal is a study in charisma and for 20 minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu it sent a flare across our thinking.
Is our money on the wrong Special One? All that Jose Mourinho has done, Van Gaal has done, too; championships in three countries, the UEFA Cup, the Champions League, etc.
Mourinho has us around his little finger. He has allowed a 'special' narrative to develop around his Inter Milan story so powerful that victory tonight appears pre-ordained; he is merely acting out the details in a prophecy foretold.
Van Gaal is happy to let this poppycock percolate across the salons of Europe, while he appears from nowhere like a Parisian art thief to clear off with football's grand prize.
In Mourinho's telling of his messianic journey from Milan to Madrid via Chelsea and Barcelona we have overlooked the pedigree not only of Van Gaal but his team.
Like Inter, Bayern arrive at this final as double winners in Germany, they are four-time holders of this trophy and are contesting their third final in 11 years. Only Manchester United and AC Milan have a better record in the same period.
Inter start favourites but not overwhelmingly so. As Van Gaal said: "It's always possible the lower level club wins, that's sport."
This is very much the second coming of the Dutchman, who like Mourinho acquired the status of guru out of the blocks.
Mourinho has yet to endure any kind of fall. A blip, perhaps, on the end of Roman Abramovich's unanswerable toe-cap at Chelsea but nothing comparable to the downward sweep endured by Van Gaal after leaving Barcelona to coach the Dutch national team in 2000.
Failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2002 presaged a difficult period in which he was seen as last year's model peddling outmoded methods.
This is what can happen when success is explained in mystical terms, when the coach is accorded Svengali status imbued with magical qualities beyond the ken of mortals. When the magic fades it does so inexplicably and is seen as a terminal development.
It was a mistake to return to Barcelona and then Ajax in technical roles distanced from the dugout. Only when Van Gaal resumed the tracksuit at AZ Alkmaar did the maestro awaken.
It is the experience of failure that makes him dangerous tonight.
Mourinho believes he can't lose. Van Gaal knows he might and is thus better able to contend against the possibility. He also takes into combat the memory of their earlier roles, when he was the man and Jose carried the water.
"I remember that first meeting with Bobby Robson and president Nunes (1997) and I was told I would be manager. He (Mourinho) thought he'd been promised the youth academy.
"Nunes spoke only to Robson not Mourinho. He was so angry he shouted so much. On that day he was a special one so I hired him."
When asked if Mourinho was the greatest coach of his generation, van Gaal was not prepared to give too much ground, admitting only: "He is 10 (sic) years younger than me, so of his generation, yes he is."
Van Gaal had previously said that the difference between the two coaches was that Mourinho's philosophy was only about winning, whereas his own involved entertaining the public.
Since joining Bayern a year ago, he has widened their limited popular appeal with a more positive approach. "I try to play football for the fans," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)