Idealism laced with a liberal dose of reality seems to be what Louis van Gaal has injected into the veins of his Dutch players in this World Cup.
There are still the traces of ‘Dutchness’ in the crisp movement of the ball, the patience, the positioning and efficiency but this is laced with the practical knowledge that ideals and emotion don’t always win games or trophies.
We saw last night that playing with your heart can lead you into trouble and cause you to lose your head – the very thing you need to keep in the white hot cauldron of professional football at this level.
Van Gaal is truly one of the masters. His work can be seen in the hands of others like Mourinho and Guardiola, infused with their own philosophies and cultural characteristics but the hand of the master is in there guiding them.
Tonight’s game will see Van Gaal prepare for a thousand possible scenarios using a realism that has crept into his work in the last few years.
I’ve spoken with several top world coaches over the years and they ALL say the same thing – that when they first started, they thought they could change the world but then they realized they couldn’t.
Age and experience does that to a man and Louis van Gaal has, without losing sight of his principles, ensured that his carefully crafted and fiercely defended philosophy on football has been injected with healthy doses of realism and practicality that ensures survival in a world where a football manager can only ‘win’ the arguments if he wins the games.
Editor’s note: Mark Burke is an English former footballer who played as a midfielder. A player skilled at retaining the ball, he enjoyed a 15 year professional career in England, the Netherlands, Japan, Romania, and Sweden. He played for clubs including Aston Villa, Rapid Bucharest, Middlesbrough, and Wolves.