Louis van Gaal will want to make up for Man United stint before retirement
Earlier this week, former Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal said he would not be returning to football. Then, a day later, insisted he was not retiring but only taking a sabbatical to be with his family and that, in fact, he had rejected an offer from Valencia and would consider his future in the summer.
One thing seems certain: Van Gaal's failure to conquer English football with United will make it difficult, if not downright impossible, for him to give up football for good.
It's always been like this for the Dutchman. Perhaps the most stubborn man in the game, the former P.E. teacher from Amsterdam has refused to take no for an answer since his first big job in football. Starting out at Ajax in the early 1990s, it took no less than three years of patience from the Amsterdam club's notoriously impatient fans before he was able to win his first league title and leave his mark. But leave his mark he certainly did.
In 2017, with football's elite reigning supreme over Europe, it seems impossible for a club like Ajax to win the Champions League again. Back in 1995, it was just very, very hard. But Van Gaal did it anyway. Managing to convince his young players, many of whom he had coached in the youth teams before he became first-team manager, to follow exactly what he said, he created one of the most memorable teams of all time.
More success followed in the years thereafter. At Barcelona, Van Gaal won the Spanish league and cup, and mentored the likes of Jose Mourinho -- ironically, his successor at Manchester United -- and Pep Guardiola. During later spells at AZ and Bayern Munich he made sure he prevailed too. And when he didn't, like his first spell as manager of the Dutch national team between 2000-02, he made it his goal to rectify things before his retirement.
Leading Netherlands to third place at the World Cup in 2014 was that retribution. It was an astonishing accomplishment and certainly didn't go unnoticed at Manchester United, where the club were looking for another authoritative figure to take charge after David Moyes' failure to successfully succeed Sir Alex Ferguson. Van Gaal desperately wanted the job, too. After fulfilling one dream with Netherlands boss, it was time to tick the final box: success in England.
As we now know, this is where things started to go wrong.
For some reason, Van Gaal never seemed able to truly get the Manchester United squad to follow him. Perhaps it was because his methods and tactical vision were simply too outdated for the Premier League, or perhaps it was down to another cultural mismatch. One thing is for sure, though: his failure to succeed as Manchester United boss will quite literally be keeping Van Gaal up at night even to this day.
Whether winning or losing, Van Gaal has always kept going. And he would have done at Manchester United as well, had the board not sacked him after winning the 2016 FA Cup in his last match in charge. The lack of a Premier League winner's medal and a blot on the final part of his CV will not be something that sits well with him.
Paradoxically, Van Gaal has always said some things in life are more important than football, and he has always said he was looking forward to his retirement. After the death of his first wife in 1994, he maintained he wanted to spend his old age with his second wife in the home they had built in Portugal. But that gaping hole in his trophy cabinet, that open spot where his Premier League winner's medal was supposed to be, will surely prevent him from finding the peace he has always wanted.
The Premier League is just different, his friends will suggest -- relax and enjoy the Portuguese sun, success at Manchester United simply wasn't meant to be. But as he's enjoying a glass of wine or polishing the many medals he won throughout his career, the forever football-obsessed Dutchman will doubtlessly still be trying to figuring how to end his career on a high.
The Valencia job is clearly too soon, and perhaps too much of a project, but he will not be short of offers should he decide to make a comeback. Knowing Van Gaal, still one of the most stubborn and self-assured men in the history of football, it's more likely than not that he will return.
Elko Born is a freelance journalist and football writer from Amsterdam. You can follow him on Twitter at @Elko_B.