Louis Van Gaal doesn’t need much of an introduction – he’s been a well known football face since he rose to international prominence as coach of the all-conquering Ajax side of the early 90’s. Outspoken and never far from controversy or shy of confrontation, he’s dominated the back pages of Spain, Germany and his native Holland for the best part of 3 decades. Now newly installed as United boss, one anticipates that a repeat scenario over here is completely inevitable.
Coinciding with his arrival at Old Trafford is the release of Louis Van Gaal – The Biography by Maarten Meijer (Ebury Press, £16.99). Meijer is a Dutch football commentator and academic who has previously published books on Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat. This latest effort offers a welcome crash course in the life and times of the man christened the ‘Iron Tulip’ by the German press.
The book is a comprehensive run through Van Gaal’s career to date and an attempt to dig beneath the public perception of him as nothing more than a bullying, dogmatic control freak. Sound familiar? Oh yes, it’s pretty striking how many parallels there are between Van Gaal and Sir Alex Ferguson. Unspectacular playing career? Check. Incredible work ethic? Check. Belief in youth? Check. Love of rotation and constant tinkering? Ch… you get the idea.
Unlike Ferguson, Van Gaal has never managed to stay in one place beyond a few years, however. The author details the reasons why tenures at Ajax, Barca and Bayern all ultimately unravelled, mainly due to his autocratic style being at odds with the political structures in place at each of these European giants. That said, Meijer also describes a man capable of embracing change who’s refined his football vision over the years. Meijer suggests LVG’s first spell at Ajax imploded as the demands of his ‘total football’ philosophy took a physical toll on his group of players. Van Gaal went on to revise this singular approach in later years, with his title winning team at AZ Alkmaar instead characterised by an ultra-direct, counter-attacking style of play.
After detailing a career built on principles of “discipline, structure and organisation”, Mejier reaches a conclusion of sorts by proposing that LVG has shown signs of mellowing in recent times and the ‘Van Gaal 2.0’ arriving in England is a more “relaxed and diplomatic” creature. The squad of players he’s inherited (not to mention the Manchester press pack) will certainly be hoping so.
During his first season at Munich (when Van Gaal took on an underachieving side and led them to the brink of the treble) Karl-Heinz Rummenigge expressed delight with the new appointment, “he’s the right man at the right club at the right time.” Whether that’s the case now remains to be seen – although based on the evidence presented here, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun finding out.
Strap yourselves in, people.
Copyright Red News – August 2014