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Marcotti: A tournament to remember

World Cup Jul 14, 2014
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John Brewin profile picture Posted by John Brewin
Jul 8, 2014

Van Gaal a drastic change from Moyes

ESPN FC's Craig Burley and Shaka Hislop discuss the Netherlands' run to the World Cup semifinals.

As the World Cup comes to its conclusion, next season's Premier League kickoff is just over five weeks away.

Those who will find themselves covering Manchester United have a glint in their eye. This Louis van Gaal chap seems like he might provide some good stories win, draw or lose -- though especially lose.

The Dutch master has carried himself as if he were the coach of the tournament. His public pronouncements are never slow in awarding himself credit.

He has revealed himself to be no respecter of reputations, with the successful removals of Robin van Persie and Jasper Cillessen bringing in match winners for both the Netherlands' knockout matches. The Tim Krul introduction for the penalty shootout did a fine job of shrouding what had been a poor display against Costa Rica. The general who makes his own luck is a fine characteristic to call on in top-level coaching.

At such a time, it is difficult not to draw comparisons with David Moyes, Van Gaal's hapless predecessor-to-be or "Poor David," as he became known to many in United circles. Van Gaal, brusque, self-assured and flamboyant, has looked in Brazil like everything Moyes could not be at Old Trafford.

Moyes remains well-liked in football, except among those who helped bring about his fall in April. Plenty of goodwill is retained for him.

He won much credit among the English press pack when showing up in Miami as the England squad prepared for its embarrassingly premature exit. Away from the glare of the postmatch flash interview or those uncomfortable news conferences that got shorter with each defeat, Moyes is a sociable, clubbable cove and won back the appreciation of those who became his tormentors during that disastrous nine months in charge.

Louis van Gaal might not be the friendliest coach, but his management skills are top notch.

One thing remains clear: Moyes was never a fit for United. On arrival, the place shrank him, one of British football's finest managers, and he never allowed himself to grow back. Van Gaal does not strike as a man to be so bowed, so humble. If the aim of the Glazer family's appointment is to reduce the residual influence of Sir Alex Ferguson, then such a dominant figure is necessary.

Van Gaal has never been known to duck a challenge.

Making returns to Barcelona, Ajax and the Dutch team suggests either reckless abandon or total self-assurance. Things did not work out at either club, but a return to the national team has provided vindication. Failing to get a generation containing Ruud van Nistelrooy, Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf and Edwin van der Sar to the 2002 World Cup was the biggest blot on his résumé, yet with a group of lesser talents, he has gone far beyond expectations in 2014.

Like Moyes, Van Gaal is a tracksuit manager, but the evidence suggests that the results of their training ground work are very different. Moyes preached solidity, shape and linear football to players who refused to be converted. Van Gaal's Netherlands have played several different formations in five matches in Brazil, with adaptability, a tenet of "Total Football," at the heart of his dictations.

The Netherlands' opening win against Spain will probably end up being the most devastating display of this entire World Cup. It was achieved through Van Gaal striking at the heart of Spain. Where others had previously sat back to be eventually lulled by Spain's possession game, the Dutch asked questions that the ailing holders could no longer answer.

Van Persie and Arjen Robben in particular, players beyond their supposed peak years, performed as if given fresh footballing lives. Around them, their teammates always stuck to their coach's rigorous instructions; those United players whose interest dipped under Moyes will not get away with it now.

"He is the brain behind everything," said Krul on Monday. "We know before each game what we have to do."

In choosing to take on United after a World Cup, Van Gaal, hardly getting any younger at 62, placed great pressure on himself. Had the Dutch exited Group B, as many expected, then he faced arriving in Manchester as a lame duck. Now, no matter what might happen from this point on, he will arrive with his swagger fully justified, his blow-dried head held high.

"I'm asking you, if you have such a clever question, if you're going to ask me questions, I'm going to ask you questions" is a sample of his World Cup news conferences. He has not joined Manchester United to make friends. Those expectant journalists are in for a far tougher ride from Van Gaal than they ever gave Moyes.

John Brewin

A football writer at ESPN FC.

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