Louis van Gaal
2014/2015 Barclays Premier League
Previous Clubs/Countries: Ajax, Barcelona, Netherlands, AZ, Bayern Munich
Honours: Champions League: 1995; Intercontinental Cup: 1995; UEFA Cup: 1992; UEFA Super Cup: 1995, 1998; Eredivisie: 1994, 1995, 1996, 2009; KNVB Beker: 1993; Spanish Primera Division: 1998, 1999; Copa del Rey: 1998; German Bundesliga: 2010; DFB-Pokal: 2010; DFB Supercup: 2010
"I am who I am and I have my own ways. I'm not going to change and I have no desire to." These words aptly sum up the obstinate, eccentric and media-loathing yet innovative and inimitable genius of Louis van Gaal.
The Amsterdam-bred coach boasts one of the finest résumés in European football and while he has experienced his fair share of highs and lows, few can dare to question his legacy.
Nicknamed the "Iron Tulip" and the "Czar of Alkmaar", Van Gaal's strict principles have served him well and he has managed some of the most successful sides in European history.
His professional football career began as a 20-year-old in his hometown, for Ajax, but after failing to make the grade, he enjoyed successful spells as a midfielder for Royal Antwerp, Telstar, Sparta Rotterdam and finally AZ Alkmaar, where he hung up his boots in 1987 to become the club's assistant coach.
A year later Van Gaal returned to take up the same role at Ajax where he learned his trade under Leo Beenhakker before replacing him in 1991. Educated in the club's 'Total Football' philosophy of the 1970s, Van Gaal promoted an attacking brand of football which led the Amsterdammers to three Eredivisie titles, a UEFA Cup and a first Champions League triumph in more than two decades, during his six-year tenure. Players such as Edwin van der Sar, Frank Rijkaard, the De Boer brothers, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Jari Litmanen, Marc Overmars and Patrick Kluivert were all among his '95 Eredivise and European Cup-winning side -- often labelled as Ajax's greatest ever XI.
Many European clubs had been keeping tabs on Van Gaal's progress and the Dutch coach inherited a Barcelona side which had just won a cup treble under Bobby Robson's stewardship, in 1997. In his first season, Van Gaal ended Barcelona's 37-year wait for a Primera Division and Copa del Rey double and the Catalan outfit established themselves as the leading force in Spanish football by retaining the league title the following season.
However, Van Gaal is a man who does not like to see his authority undermined and he became embroiled in heated confrontations with the club's supporters and playing staff, notably Rivaldo, who he forced to play on the left-wing, against the player's demands. His term reached a boiling point in the 1999-2000 season and after a trophyless campaign, Van Gaal stepped down to coach the Netherlands' in their ill-fated 2002 World Cup bid, the Oranje failing to qualify for the finals in Japan and South Korean for the first time since 1986.
It appeared that Van Gaal's magic touch had disappeared and after a short, unsuccessful return to Barcelona, the enigmatic coach left his post as Ajax's technical director in 2004 due to an internal conflict.
But the challenge Van Gaal urgently needed to prove himself came in 2005 when he was tasked with breaking the Eredivisie duopoly of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven as coach of AZ Alkmaar. His first two seasons saw AZ narrowly miss out on the title and his mission seemed destined for failure when they finished a lowly 11th in 2007-08. Despite initially announcing his intention to resign, Van Gaal was persuaded to allow the players a chance to redeem themselves and in the following season, AZ lifted the Dutch title for only the second time in the club's history.
The chance to win a championship in a third country tempted Vvan Gaal to take the reins at Bayern Munich in 2009 and he became the first Dutch manager to win the Bundesliga, in his maiden season. A 3-0 win over Werder Bremen added a DFB-Pokal triumph but van Gaal was denied an extraordinary Treble as he tasted defeat to Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in the Champions League final.
Although a disappointing 2010-11 season ended with Van Gaal's sacking, the Dutch manager had undoubtedly proved his qualities across Europe and after Netherlands lost all three of their Euro 2012 matches, he was given a chance to restore his international pedigree with a second spell in charge of the Oranje, replacing Bert van Marwijk.
He did not disappoint and Netherlands qualified for the 2014 World Cup with relative ease -- though they needed a desperate late comeback to salvage a draw against lowly Estonia -- boasting nine wins and one draw, with a goal difference of +29. Van Gaal set the national side a target of reaching the semifinals in Brazil and despite many suggesting he would do well to get out of a group containing Chile and Spain with what was regarded as a much weaker side than competed at 2010, he took them all the way to the last four before suffering an agonising penalty shootout defeat to Argentina.
Brazil were beaten in the third-place playoff and Van Gaal bowed out with his reputation with the national team restored. Just before the World Cup began, Van Gaal had booked his next managerial appointment -- perhaps the greatest challenge of his career comes as manager of a Manchester United side looking to return to former glories.
Strengths: A born leader with an insatiable desire to win, Van Gaal is an advocate of attractive attacking football, a style which Pep Guardiola insists "we should all aspire to accomplish". An astute tactician, Van Gaal is well known for his ability to develop young players and his disciplinarian approach allows him to command respect in the dressing room.
Weaknesses: A man who is not afraid to air his views or compromise his principles, Van Gaal has sometimes proved an unpopular figure amongst fans and the media. He likes to rotate his sides and this has been known to occasionally backfire on him in the past.
Career High: In 1994-95, his Ajax side went the entire league and Champions League season unbeaten, and is thus considered one of the finest to have graced Europe.
Career Low: After Netherlands had finished as semifinalists in the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship, Van Gaal led the Oranje to third place in their 2002 World Cup qualifying group -- behind Portugal and Republic of Ireland -- meaning Netherlands missed out on a major finals berth for the first time in 16 years.
Tactics: Van Gaal is prepared to juggle his formation in accordance with the players at his disposal. He tends to favour wider formations however and forces his teams to press high up the pitch, dominate possession and also be clinical on the counter attack.
Quotes: "A system depends on the players you have. I played 4-3-3 with Ajax, 2-3-2-3 with Barcelona and a 4-4-2 with AZ. I'm flexible. The philosophy stays the same though. I don't think that you can adapt it to every possible situation. You need the right mindset, and it depends on how the players see the coach and vice versa. The coach is the focal point of the team but you need to have an open mind, and so do all the players. Everyone needs to work together to achieve a common goal." Van Gaal discusses his philosophy in 2008.
Trivia: Van Gaal is a fully qualified gymnastics teacher.
Words: Max Bentley