Louis Van Gaal – The Aberrant Maestro

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Louis van Gaal has started his World Cup preparations with Holland

Manchester United FC – it is not just a football franchise. It is a way of life! Man United fans not only support the club and enjoy its beautiful football, they breathe it, they feel it, they live and die for it. And the club’s rich history, the amount of success they have achieved and more importantly the sheer number of titles they have bagged is a hallmark on their status of being one of the greatest clubs of the world.

Starting from Ernest Mangnall, to the great era of Matt Busby, Tommy Docherty, Ron Atkinson and many others, all managers played their part in making Manchester United what it is today. But without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest manager of all times was the one and only Sir Alex Ferguson. During his 26 years at the club, he won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League and two UEFA Champions League titles. There was no such thing as impossible for a Manchester United team under his impeccable guile and craftiness.

After such an illustrious era of brute dominance in English football, Man United went under a slump of epic proportions last season. To say that Manchester United were truly awful will certainly be an understatement. There were certainly some eyebrows raised when David Moyes was put in charge of the biggest club in England after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Add the pressure of following in the footsteps of one of the greatest managers of all times, and you already start to feel pity for him. He was signed up for a six year tenure; after direct recommendation from Ferguson himself. Unfortunately this particular decision by Ferguson wasn’t a very good one and Manchester United finished 7th place, with a worst ever record in their history. Moyes inevitably was sacked 10 months into his tenure.

After that shockingly horrendous season; now United are trying to repair the damage. And they surely have made a giant step forward towards that by signing Louis van Gaal. He’s being welcomed by the United fans as a saviour figure, which makes sense in the post-apocalyptic hole left behind by David Moyes. Why do I say that; well because for starters he is arguably a world class manager who has won the title with every club he’s been at, in three different leagues. And now he is about to start his first season in charge of Manchester United, after leading the Netherlands to a third-place finish at this summer’s World Cup. His tactical shrewdness, his peculiar man-management style, his arrogance, his madness and the best of all his famous temper, all add up to the champion of a man that he is!

 

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Van Gaal is famous for being a clearheaded strategist but equally famous for being an obnoxious pain in the neck. Back in 1991, when he took his first job as a head coach, at Ajax in his hometown of Amsterdam, his opening remarks to one of the club directors who hired him were “Congratulations on signing the best coach in the world”. But no one cares about such egoistic remarks when you go on to win three league titles, a UEFA Cup, and — in 1995, a year in which Ajax went undefeated in both league play and European competition — the UEFA Champions League.

What’s exciting for Manchester United fans is the fact that you can never rule anything out with LvG on board. Take that seemingly crazy decision for example, when van Gaal decided to substitute his goalkeeper immediately before a penalty shootout at the World Cup this year, sending on Tim Krul for Jasper Cillessen in the quarterfinal against Costa Rica, just 44 seconds before the final whistle. It was a dumbfounding decision, one that no manager can ever even dream of. I mean, why would you? Krul stopped two penalties and the Netherlands went on to the semifinal.

It’s 1995. Van Gaal’s Ajax team is playing AC Milan in the Champions League final. Milan’s Marcel Desailly commits a lackluster, head-high challenge against Ajax’s Jari Litmanen. Infuriated by the fact that the referee allowed it, van Gaal executes a flying kung fu kick on the touchline. It was a pretty good kick!

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World soccer is overhauled with his influence; the only reason to deny this is that it’s also saturated with his persona. He’s almost certainly underrated both as a tactical innovator and as a nurturer of talent. This is hard to believe only because he so consistently overrates himself. For example it was van Gaal who named Pep Guardiola captain at Barcelona in the late ’90s. It was van Gaal who familiarized the ball-pressing tactic that later became a hallmark of Barça’s tiki-taka brand of football. Mourinho started his career as an assistant to Bobby Robson, but it was van Gaal who helped him cement his place as a manager in the world arena.

If you think that finishing third-place at the World Cup with a supposedly aging and inferior Dutch squad was a great feat, get a hold of this! Remember the German team that won the tournament? It was van Gaal who made Thomas Müller a regular starter for Bayern. It was van Gaal who turned Bastian Schweinsteiger into a defensive midfielder, the position from which he dominated the final against Argentina. And the list goes on.

In football, success is not measured by the number of friends you acquire. Trophies, rather, are the currency in which football managers trade. And in that account the 63-year-old’s haul of seven league titles across three different countries, three domestic cups, one Champions League, one UEFA Cup and another seven trophies – taking in Super Cups and such – is certainly no ordinary feat.

Then there is his win ratio, a staggering 62 per cent over the course of his 23 years in the dugout. It all makes for a remarkable reading, especially when the respective locations of his victories are considered; Ajax, Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and Munich. So, considering the size of the club and the gravity of the situation Manchester United find themselves in, this single-minded egotist who is no stranger to pressures or fallouts – be that with his players, club hierarchy or the press – might just prove to be the perfect man to put Man United back to the old winning ways!

A Mechanical Engineering student at CEME, NUST Pakistan. Writer | Thinker | Bookworm | Activist for education for all! You can reach me at @ace_umer

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