Patrick Kluivert confident of Louis van Gaal turnaround at Manchester United
When 18-year-old Patrick Kluivert scored the goal that handed Louis van Gaal's Ajax victory in the 1995 Champions League final against AC Milan, his rapid rise to the top of the game was completed in an instant. It was a moment that changed Kluivert's life forever and propelled him towards a career that included a successful spell under Van Gaal at Barcelona and a stint in English football with Newcastle.
His working relationship with Van Gaal continued as he was appointed as a youthful assistant to the experienced manager for the Netherlands' 2014 World Cup qualifying push, which ended with a fine third place finish in Brazil.
Kluivert's long association with Van Gaal means he is perfectly placed to assess his former mentor's current troubles at Manchester United, with the Dutch scoring great speaking to ESPN FC at a Doritos/Pepsi Champions League legends event in London.
ESPN FC: How do you assess the position Louis van Gaal finds himself in now at Manchester United?
Patrick Kluivert: If his name were not Louis van Gaal, maybe he would have lost his job by now. When you look at the previous guy at Man United [David Moyes], he was not given so much time. So if he didn't have as big a name, maybe things would have been over for him much quicker.
ESPN FC: Do you think he can turn his fortunes around at United in the remaining weeks of this season?
PK: They still have chances to enjoy a good season, but we know the pressure of being at a club as big as Man United. You have to be successful or you cannot stay. From my experience working with him as a player and then an assistant coach, I still say Louis is one of the best managers in the game. He needs time and I hope they give it to him.
ESPN FC: You have always been very positive about Van Gaal. Is that because he did so much for your career?
PK: He brought me from the youth squad at Ajax and I remember that. He took a chance on me at the time. Then he took me to Barcelona and I played the best football of my career with him. Also, we had the World Cup experience in Brazil , so I would say I'm lucky to have spent so much time with him. You can only learn from a manager like this.
ESPN FC: Van Gaal has not smiled too often during his time at Man United. Have you seen a more jovial side to his personality away from the cameras?
PK: At the moment, things are not working out for him and that will be frustrating. You do not smile so much when the fans and the media are saying you are under pressure every day. I would say that you look at the career he has had and it shows his ways can be successful. That is a reason why United need to wait and see what happens with Van Gaal this season.
ESPN FC: What would you say is the key factor in Van Gaal's football philosophy?
PK: Structure is important for him. He wants the club to play the same system at all levels. When I came through first at Ajax, this was very important for me. I moved from the junior teams and into the first team and it was the same setup, the same formation and philosophy. This is good organisation.
ESPN FC: Is Van Gaal reluctant to change his ways if things are not working out?
PK: He is convinced by his own ideas and that is a good thing. You need convictions, but he can adapt also. You saw this at the World Cup because he changed the way we were playing a few weeks before the tournament. We moved to a back three and it was very successful. It shows he can adapt.
ESPN FC: If there is one message you have taken from Van Gaal during your time working with him as a player and a coach, what would it be?
PK: You need to be honest with players. If you are not honest and things don't go so well, then you have no chance to get the players back on your side. You need to look players straight in their eyes and appreciate that they want you to tell them the truth. There can be no other agendas.
ESPN FC: Two Dutchman have been criticised at United this season as Memphis Depay has also failed to shine after his move last summer. What do you make of his first season in English football?
PK: We all had hopes that he would be a revelation and we all had a right to expect more than we have seen from him in his first season at United. This is a massive step up for Memphis and it has been difficult for him that he has not always played every game. Sometimes he is on the bench, sometimes he starts. That does not give a player a lot of confidence and maybe that has affected him, but he still has time.
ESPN FC: Do you think he has been weighed down by the expectations on him following his move from PSV Eindhoven?
PK: We have seen this so many times. Some players are the main men at their club, they go to a big club and it is not easy for them to accept it. I look at someone like Jamie Vardy at Leicester. He is the main man there, but imagine he goes to one of the big clubs next season. How will he cope with that? It is not easy sometimes.
ESPN FC: Do you still believe Memphis will find his feet at United if he is given time?
PK: I hope so. He needs to adapt to a new league, a new country, a different environment. There is a different pressure for him now and that can take some getting used to. At PSV, he was the star, the one everyone looked at. Now he is just one of the stars at Man United. That is not so easy for a young guy to accept.
Kevin Palmer is a sports writer with Ireland's Sunday World newspaper and ESPN. You can follow him on Twitter: @RealKevinPalmer.