Louis van Gaal’s tenure at Old Trafford ended with a trophy, the FA Cup no less, but you’d be hard pressed to find a Manchester United fan labeling the Dutchman’s two seasons at the club a success.
Sandwiched in between the dreaded ‘P’s ‘philosophy’ and ‘process’ was a serving of sterile, unambitious football that found no favor with the United faithful. Factor in an expensive squad restructure, €190.77m net spend over Van Gaal’s reign, that produced precious little and it’s easy to see why the Iron Tulip’s time was cut short.
One can only speculate whether United would have honored his contract had he steered the club into a Champions League position.
However, his efforts at United have been consigned to history and despite his less than stellar time in Manchester, Van Gaal can still boast a glittering, trophy laden resume. After an eventful career, he can enjoy retirement in his Portuguese villa, unless of course the right position comes up for the 64-year old.
“He’s thrilled about the level of the Belgium national team,” said Cees Wijburg, a friend of Van Gaal. Speaking to Andy Mitten on the United We Stand podcast.
Louis van Gaal as the head coach of Belgium, it’s an intriguing proposition. For all his perceived failings at United, the Dutchman’s second stint as the boss of the Netherlands was an unexpected success as he guided his troops to third place in the 2014 World Cup.
Going into the World Cup, the Dutch squad selected by Van Gaal was seen to be one of the poorest, quality-wise, in recent memory. Despite the limitations, he led his national side to the semi-finals, dismantling the defending champions Spain on the way.
One can argue mitigating circumstances such as a relatively kind run in the knockout phase but that should not detract from the fact that the Netherlands emerged from a group containing Spain (then World Cup holders), Chile (current Copa America champions) and Australia (current Asian champions). His tactical tweaks against Mexico played a big part in the Dutch turning around a one-goal deficit in the last vestiges of their round of 16 tie when all seemed lost.
Moreover, he was willing to switch from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 after cruelly losing Kevin Strootman to a serious injury just before the World Cup in Brazil. It was a significant gamble because if his tactical gambit failed, he would have been accused of unnecessarily ripping up the team shape for no discernible reason.
It is a fine line that separates success and failure. His tactical flutters at Old Trafford were at best hit or miss, but for the Dutch at the World Cup he made the right choices more often than not.
The Netherlands’ subsequent struggles after Van Gaal left revealed how important he was to the Dutch set-up.
So it begs the question, should Louis van Gaal coach the national team of Belgium? From the Red Devils to the Red Devils.
Van Gaal certainly has the experience, personality, confidence (in spades) and know-how to make the job a success. He won’t have to worry about the day-to-day strain that is part and parcel of the club game. At the age of 64 the position, if offered, would be a tempting opportunity and surely a whole lot more interesting than singing Paul McCartney’s ode to aging.
From a Belgian point of view, they are desperately crying out for someone who is tactically savvy. Another disappointing international campaign finally put paid to the stewardship of Marc Wilmots and if Thibaut Courtois’ comments are anything to go by the former will not be missed.
“This was an opportunity we may not get again. I gave him my opinion in the dressing room. He has to make his own decision,” raged the Chelsea goalkeeper shortly after Belgium were dumped out of Euro 2016 by Wales.
“I pointed the finger where it had to be put after the game. We have to remain intelligent. We’re young and we’re going to still spend a lot of time together. But it’s a disappointment because we had a golden chance to go to the final,” he detailed to Belgian outlet Rtbf.
Courtois is now working under the watchful gaze of Antonio Conte, the coach whom outsmarted Wilmots when Italy face Belgium in Euro 2016. The Belgian number 1 would be forgiven for wondering how his national side would have fared had they been coached by Conte.
Rumors of a lack of cohesive tactical plans and general disharmony swirled around the Belgium camp, charges that were given further credence when the Red Devils failed to produce the goods on the pitch. Wilmots was simply ill-equipped to provide the leadership that his country needed.
Louis van Gaal may not be everyone’s cup of tea but he’s certainly an upgrade over Wilmots and crucially the Dutchman knows what he’s talking about when it comes to tactics and preparation.
Van Gaal presented a fascinating lecture about his management style and it’s hard to think of Wilmots ever putting together something as detailed and comprehensive.
From the outside looking in, it’s easy to posit that Van Gaal and the Belgium national team could be quite a good fit.
From the players’ point of view, they will be overseen by a proven winner who is regarded as sharp tactician. Most importantly, they will only have to deal with the Dutchman in short bursts therefore they can be tactically drilled without the fear of things becoming overly routine.
With respect to Van Gaal, he’d still be involved in the game without the hassle of dealing with the day-to-day cycle of the club game. He’ll also have the opportunity to work arguably the most gifted set of players in world football.
On the face of it, Van Gaal for Belgium seems the obvious choice. The president of the Belgian FA Francois De Keersemacker was more than happy to invite the Dutchman to apply for the position.
“Van Gaal might be a potential candidate. We will see if he puts himself forward as a candidate. If he does then we will evaluate his candidacy,” De Keersemacker said.
Handily, the Belgian FA put up an ad for the role on their website should LVG want to check before emailing in his CV.
Van Gaal so nearly took over the reins Belgium in 2007. His friend Cees Wijburg revealed “he loves the Belgium team and I can tell you that in 2007 I arranged a meeting with the top of the Belgian FA to get him to Belgium because he wanted to go to Belgium but the day after he was asked by Bayern Munich so the choice was made.”
It wasn’t meant to be in 2007, but 2016 could present a new opportunity for Louis van Gaal to finally coach the Belgian national side.
With Van Gaal, anything is possible and whilst he’s been successful more often than not, there have been notable failures too. He’s more than capable of spectacularly falling out with players and figureheads but he possesses the tools and the pedigree to extract more from Belgium’s so-called “Golden Generation” than the departed Wilmots.
One gets the feeling that the Iron Tulip is not quite finished with soccer just yet. Don’t bet against the Dutchman going for one last hurrah.
In a sense, the Van Gaal and the Belgium national team seem made for each other. A pair with bruised egos looking to put right past setbacks. The ingredients are there for them to harness their hurt and channel their energies to creating something potentially special.
So Louis van Gaal from the Red Devils to the Red Devils? To quote the Dutchman, it could be something to get “horny” about.