Feature

O Louis, where art thou?

Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal was once renowned as one of the most attack-minded coaches in world football, where is that Louis now?

Manchester United

Smile and wave, everything will be okay . . . . Louis Van Gaal Source: Getty Images

In the early 1990’s Ajax were conquering the Netherlands and Europe by playing some of the most open, attacking football of the time.

This culminated in 1995 when Ajax defeated holders AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League final.

It was a delight to watch and the Dutch outfit deservedly took the mantle Barcelona own today, as the most exciting team to watch on the continent.

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The coach of this magnificent team and overall mastermind (at least he would say so) was of course, Louis van Gaal.

Barcelona were so impressed with Van Gaal's style of play that they brought him to the Nou Camp to replicate his success in Amsterdam.

Two league championships followed playing a football style demanded by the Catalan faithful. It may not have been the tiki-taka of Guardiola's era, but it was still enjoyable to watch. Van Gaal even gave a teenage Xavi his debut in the process.

The two split after the Dutch coach’s Achilles heel became apparent. He annoyed too many players, and club officials for that matter.

At AZ in the 2005, Van Gaal rebuilt his reputation as a coach who can build something special. Throughout his time the Alkmaar club he continued the pro-active style implemented by Co Adriaanse and went a step further by claiming the division title in 2009.

This led to Van Gaal’s move to Bayern Munich, where he reinforced his ability to produce a successful, attacking style of football that included a Champions League final appearance in 2010.

It was surprising for those that had followed the Dutch coach’s career to see him employ a more counter-attacking approach when he led the Netherlands to the 2014 FIFA World Cup semi-finals, yet that could have been explained by the tournament’s time frame and a lack of options.

In the end it proved successful enough. Those upstairs at Manchester United would have been thinking the Van Gaal philosophy was still based on pro-active approach to football.

Eighteen months into his tenure at Old Trafford however and there is little evidence to support this. Where is the Louis Van Gaal that received a knighthood at Ajax?

To hear commentators in England regard Val Gaal as a boring coach seems utterly ludicrous, yet impossible to argue with.

He has had the time to embed his philosophy, he has had the resources to put a squad together that can produce it, yet the football continues to be a damp squib. Much to the dismay of the Old Trafford supporters who still long for the glory days of Alex Ferguson’s swashbuckling sides.

There were signs against Chelsea that the old Dutch master can still be the young Louis that created the spectacular Ajax side of Bergkamp, Kluivert, Litmanen, Overmars, Davids and Seedorf.

Perhaps the spectre of losing his job to his once assistant Jose Mourinho has shaken Louis’ famous ego and given him a new perspective.

Hopefully it’s made him realise that much like the Nou Camp, Old Trafford demands n pro-active approach to football, as well as results.

Louis has limited time to produce both, but one of his most scathing critics, Paul Scholes, admitted that the Chelsea draw was a step in the right direction.

Few would have doubted that Van Gaal’s appointment at United would prove so problematic.

Van Gaal once boasted that the Manchester United fans were backing him by chanting “Louis van Gaal’s army”.



But if he doesn’t rekindle those special Ajax days, the Glazer family may relieve the general of his duties without haste.


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4 min read
Published 30 December 2015 at 2:13am
By Vitor Sobral