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Target on: Louis van Gaal

 Posted by on April 24, 2014 at 10:46 pm  Manchester United, The Ball is Flat
Apr 242014

If you're here you are probably curious about Louis van Gaal. One of a long-line of Dutch coaches trained at the intersection of the KNV, the Dutch national team and that grand breeding ground of tactics and formations that influenced the world and continues to do so to this day. More than likely this is in regards to the documented interest from English clubs for the services of the Netherland's coach considering his contract expires just after the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Tottenham are interested and have been for awhile, but van Gaal has hesitated to sign for Spurs because there had been interest from another club in England. It should have been a red-flag warning. Clubs generally don't talk to other coaches while either their own coach or the coach in question is still under contract, but there were few people amazed at the sacking of David Moyes at Manchester United and that amongst others the name of Louis van Gaal appeared.

We'll go through a quick biography here: 62 years old, a middling player but not great in the Eredivisie, he got his start in the Ajax coaching treadmill and won numerous league titles for Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and more still with Ajax to go along with a Champions League Trophy, a UEFA Cup a UEFA Super-Cup and and Intercontinental Cup as well. He certainly has the silverware to go along with it but at every club he's been, he's clashed with his superiors, his coaching staff and even his players.

There has been much made about van Gaal's temperament. They have likened him to Marcelo Bielsa in terms of his fanatical attention to detail, planning and tactics. As for his arrogance, there is an anecdote about him when he was approached by a reporter and asked if his former protege Jose Mourinho was indeed the greatest coach in world football, van Gall stated, "Maybe of his generation, but he's 10 years younger than me." He's arrogant, pedantic and a more than a bit of dictator, or at least that's the picture you get from people who worked in and around him.

People will lump him in with Cruyff because their career paths have intersected at times, but they are not close either personally or in footballing terms. Van Gaal is much more pragmatic than Cruyff. He is according to David Winner in his wonderful book Brilliant Orange: the Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer, more concerned "with the shape of the team and the structure of the passing and running movements" than with any individual player's brilliance. He'll respond well to players that sacrifice themselves to maintain his system and he won't have patience with players like Rivaldo for instance with whom he feuded with at FC Barcelona. If there are players who have problems adapting or playing as a cohesive unit under David Moyes at Manchester United you can bet that won't change with the hiring of van Gaal.

What you won't find is the indecisiveness that many categorized Moyes having. The picture that Winner paints of van Gaal is of a man with a singular vision, fanatical and hyper-critical of himself and his team. His honesty is frankly a double-edged sword. Tactically he prefers a game based on quick-decision making, circulating the ball quickly, using space and movement to probe opponent's defenses. He's of the same school as Guardiola, and Rjkaard you could say who were greatly influenced by him, they both played for him, but van Gaal is unique.

How would he do if given the chance at Manchester United? He'll certainly make his imprint quickly. He has the demeanor and the temperament to fight right on through any lingering imprint that Sir Alex Ferguson left; there won't be any Sir-Alex-wouldn't whispers in the training ground. He'll install a system that is very much compatible with what most of them are comfortable with and he'll get them to buy into his system, and tactically there's no one better. He'll find a squad that will play for him and he'll rid himself quickly of those who can't or won't. He'll step on people's toes, and he won't suffer the press much at all. He's perfect.

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The Ball is Flat is a website and podcast devoted to the Beautiful Game. Football, Futbol, Fusball or whatever you call it, it is the game that divides and unites us. The Ball is Flat's mission is to cover European football with an eye open, the heart in motion, and the brain colored with the right amount of cheerful cynicism. Read more:

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