Sometimes, van Gaal describes himself as “a risky coach.” How does that fit into his schoolmasterly propensity for “brainy” instructions meant to counter contingency? Well, it doesn’t. Make no mistake about it: When van Gaal claims to be taking a risk the choices are always made upon a backcloth of rational analysis. His much talked about substitution of Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul during the World Cup was never a result of hic et nunc intuition but a pre-calculated move based on hardcore probability theory. And when Manchester United scored three exquisite goals, one of them pure world class, against Leicester and ultimately threw away a 3:1 lead by conceding four goals in the last twenty-eight minutes, it may lead us to believe that van Gaal is a guarantor of the re-enchantment of soccer. But he is not. If he had his way, United should simply have shut down the match by keeping possession. In other words, his players should have used their brains to counter the legs, hearts, and feelings of the Leicester players. But they couldn’t. Not because the strategy was wrong and they should have employed similar methods as Leicester, but because van Gaal hasn’t had time enough to educate his players in his “philosophy.”
In stark contrast to Rooney’s remark about van Gaal’s “unbelievable attention to detail” stands Alex Ferguson’s outbreak shortly after the final whistle of the 1999 Champions League final when United overturned Bayern Munich’s one goal-lead by scoring two goals in injury time. “Oh, I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! Football! Bloody hell,” he almost shouted to the camera while he was smiling broadly. Now, there was a man caught up in the moment, full of feelings, who had just witnessed the contingency of soccer in all its enchanting (or, if you were a Bayern fan, devastating) power. In fact, Ferguson’s remarks following his team’s victory against Chelsea in the final nine years later also comes to mind. At that time he labeled John Terry’s famous slip “destiny.” Not exactly a word associated with rationality, probability theory, and brain, but, arguably, more with superstition, heart, and romanticism. Or if it had anything to do with rationalization, it was a post facto. It was, in fact, Ferguson’s attempt to connect the death of eight grail-hunting Busby Babes in 1958 with the club’s European triumph in 2008, forty years after the Munich Air Disaster; that is, it was his merely human effort to fit two disparate events into a (metaphysical) pattern and thus create meaning in a godless world.