Monday 16 December 2019

Red Devils on to a winner as Van Gaal again shows he has the Midas touch

Netherlands' manager Louis van Gaal has commanded the unstinting respect of his players at the World Cup. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Netherlands' manager Louis van Gaal has commanded the unstinting respect of his players at the World Cup. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Mark Ogden

Louis van Gaal is proving to be the man with the Midas touch in Brazil and it will encourage Manchester United to believe that they have backed a winner as their new manager.

Van Gaal's audacious decision to change goalkeepers just seconds before the Netherlands World Cup quarter-final against Costa Rica moved into a penalty shoot-out proved a masterstroke, with substitute Tim Krul saving two of the five spot kicks he faced after replacing Jasper Cillessen.

In the second round, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored a late winner from the penalty spot after being brought on by Van Gaal for Robin van Persie as the Dutch trailed against Mexico.

Even after having gone for broke and hit the jackpot twice, Van Gaal retained the air of nonchalance on Saturday that has typified his handling of a high-maintenance squad.

The group of players who admit to being in his thrall were more effusive.

"We have a superb trainer," Arjen Robben said. "He is a coach who works magic like this all the time."

The Dutch squad's affection for Van Gaal has been evident since they arrived in South America.

The so-called 'Iron Tulip', a man with a reputation for being abrasive and unforgiving, has commanded the unstinting respect of his players, allowing them free time in Rio, and encouraging regular contact with their families.

Senior figures within the squad insist that his approach is the key to Holland's success so far.

"He is just one-of-a-kind, in his way of working and especially the tactical discipline he has for the team," said midfielder Nigel de Jong. "You've seen his resume. He is a fantastic coach and, over the years, he has built a lot of experience in these situations.

"That reflects also on the group because if he is calm, and if somebody from the group makes the right decisions, you can take it forward easily. He is one of the first I have experienced that does tactical changes in games like he does. For me, it is a new experience.

"Everybody who knows him knows he does a lot of tactical changes depending on the match and how it progresses, so he did that well."

A prime example of Van Gaal's ability to coax the best out of his players is that of Dirk Kuyt, the former Liverpool forward who has accepted an unfamiliar wing-back role during the knockout stages.

Many, including one or two notable names in the England squad, have failed to grasp the challenge of playing out of position as readily as Kuyt, who insisted that his success was down to Van Gaal.

"This is the power of the manager," said the 33-year-old. "It is not easy to create a team like this. If you want to do something, you have to go in the same direction and he is the perfect manager to make that happen. He has shown in many countries that he can do this job and he has also convinced the players that his way can be successful and I think that is the key."

Van Gaal admitted that he was pleased with himself after his late change of goalkeepers paid off.

"We are a tiny bit proud that this trick has helped us through," he said. "It worked out, but if it hadn't it would have been my mistake. We said nothing to Jasper because we didn't want him to know before the game. We felt Tim would be the most appropriate keeper to save penalties."

Van Gaal's continued success in Brazil means that his start date at Manchester United keeps being pushed back further into July, but there is no sense of panic at Old Trafford that the new manager may have only a 48-hour window between returning from the World Cup and heading off on the club's pre-season tour of the United States.

Van Gaal's first game in charge of Manchester United, a friendly against LA Galaxy in Pasadena, is 16 days away. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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