Louis Van Gaal Was Not Perfect But He Was Still A Manager Capable Of The Sublime

Harris Simpson by Harris Simpson / 17 January 2017, 13:21

As Louis Van Gaal calls time on his glittering 26-year career, there will inevitably be some who still fail to see the genius behind his madness.

A turbulent time in England has done little to endear him to fans of the Premier League, and he is undoubtedly held in much higher regard on the continent.

Things were certainly not easy for Van Gaal at United, and it must be remembered that despite his stylistic failings, he has still in many ways had a positive effect. Whatever your opinion on the controversial Dutchman, his sheer number of achievements mean that Van Gaal simply cannot be ignored, and although his personality meant that he was often on the verge of self destruction, he will forever be remembered as a success.


Arguably, Van Gaal’s greatest achievements came in the 1990’s, where successful spells at Barcelona, and most notably Ajax, saw his reputation surge, playing a brand of football which truly revolutionised European football.

At Ajax, Van Gaal invested his trust in the club’s youth system, building a team capable of dazzling performances at the highest levels of the game. Van Gaal was able to not only dominate domestically, but conquer Europe as well, with his side incredibly going the entire 1994-1995 season unbeaten on their way to the Champions League trophy, boasting an average age of just 23.

His tactical nous, mixed with the exuberance of youth, proved to be a potent combination, one which even the worlds top managers failed to combat. In fact, the following campaign saw Van Gaal come agonisingly close to retaining Europe’s top competition, only for Marcelo Lippi's Juventus to deny him by the finest of margins.

Inevitably, Van Gaal’s Ajax team would be broken up by the money on offer at Europe’s other Premier clubs, and the Dutchman would also elect to go prove himself in a different League.





After his Ajax adventure, Van Gaal would join Barcelona where he would once again achieve great success. In a 3-year spell, Van Gaal would win the Catalans 2 La Liga titles, and a Copa Del Rey, while he also played a key role in helping to shape the club’s youth system.

However, it was during this spell that Van Gaal’s obtuse personality would start to have a detrimental effect, as multiple spats with the Spanish press would see him tender his resignation at the end of a disappointing 3rd campaign.





Dislike Of The Individual

For all his talent, Van Gaal’s eccentric behaviour was something that often lead to poor relationships with star players. During his 2nd ill fated tenure at Barcelona, the legendary Rivaldo infamously fell foul of Van Gaal’s famed ‘philosophy’, as his flamboyancy was clearly at odds with the Dutchman’s measured approach. On his departure Rivaldo stated “I don’t like Van Gaal, and I am sure he doesn’t like me either”, and this inability to accommodate ego’s as big as his was certainly a major failing.

Players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic would also express a dislike for the eccentric Dutchman, while his handling of Ángel Di María at Manchester United was certainly detrimental to the player’s confidence.

Van Gaal did not have the people skills of other great managers, and he had strong dislike for the improvised, his stubbornness meant that every minute detail of his tactical plan had to be adhered to, and any player, no matter the ability, would find themselves ostracised if not.

Wesley Sneijder expertly summed up his coaching style stating “I have always said that Van Gaal is the best coach there is, there is no better coach than Van Gaal, but as a human being, I have had nothing but trouble with him on a personal level”





Latter success

Failing to take Holland to the 2002 World Cup, coupled with a disappointing 2nd spell with Barcelona, had seen Van Gaal's star somewhat fall, but he would once more prove himself at Dutch minnows AZ Alkmaar.

During a 4-year spell at the club, Van Gaal ended his reign by delivering AZ’s first league title in 28 years, a team many had predicted to struggle in the lower half of the division.

His success earned himself a move to Bayern Munich, where Van Gaal would showcase his supreme coaching ability, but also his personal flaws.

His first year was an undoubted success as he claimed a domestic double, reaching a Champions League final in the process, however, Bayern’s play became rigid and predictable in his 2nd year, and the Dutchman’s inflexibility would once more see him lose his job.

Van Gaal would go on to have one last crack at the national side, and after impressively taking an unfancied Holland side to the Semi-Finals of the World Cup, Van Gaal would finally test himself in the Premier League.

Manchester United

Van Gaal’s time at Manchester United will not be remembered fondly by many in England. His style was often derided for being static and rigid, and his press conferences often provided more entertainment than his team on the pitch.

But it should be remembered that Van Gaal did not inherit a team of superstars, he took over a side who had just finished in an unprecedented 7th place, with a squad that was in major need of an overhaul.

In fact, if you view Van Gaal’s tenure as a rebuilding job, it can be argued that his time at the club was a success. Van Gaal was responsible for bringing in talent such as Anthony Martial, while he was the man who promoted Marcus Rashford to first team affairs.

In many ways United got the best and worst of ‘LVG’. He promoted youth, and did deliver silverware, but his philosophy neutered the club’s attacking traditions, and his inability to change again saw him lose the fans, and the dressing room. Perhaps the moment Ander Herrera scored a header at Everton, only to be chastised by his manager for being out of position, was the perfect encapsulation of Van Gaal. He was a man capable of letting his perfectionism limit his own chances of success.






Van Gaal was a maverick, and his legacy certainly went beyond just the trophies he won.

His record with youth was nothing short of phenomenal, as not only did he develop Dutch legends such as Kluivert, Davids, and Seedorf, but he is also credited with bringing through Spanish maestro’s Xavi and Iniesta. At Bayern he turned Bastian Schweinsteiger from disappointing winger to midfield sensation, while he also elevated Thomas Müller to the first team squad.

His career has seen him win 7 League titles, 4 national cups, 2 Uefa Super Cups, the Uefa Cup, and the Champions League, all by rigidly sticking to his own philosophy, and although he may have attracted as many critics as he did fans, it is befitting that his last act as a manger was to lift one last trophy.

Van Gaal’s career has always been a battle between his own genius and his personal quirks, but his record is one which will always demand respect.





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