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Brazil's dubious distinction

Five Aside Jul 12, 2014
Read
Jun 26, 2014

Van Gaal makes mockery of critics' fears

Louis van Gaal's tactical plan has worked so far for Netherlands, who will face Mexico in the round of 16.

With a sophisticated strategy tailored for each group stage match, Louis van Gaal has started the tournament in the best way possible. His master plan has paid off thus far, with nine points, 10 goals and that astonishing 5-1 victory over world champion Spain one of the highlights of the tournament. Every sensible follower of the national side now knows they've got the right man.

That was not always the case, however. Van Gaal helped create and shape successful squads at the likes of Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich -- something the clubs still benefit from even today -- but he was not always universally respected in the Netherlands. In his first spell as coach of the national team, he didn't even make it to the World Cup in 2002. He was dubbed a laughingstock following too many cranky news conferences, and it appeared as though van Gaal's chance had come and gone with Oranje.

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His initial reluctance to use Wesley Sneijder created bad blood, and former members of the national team queued up to criticise van Gaal for abandoning their principles in favour of pragmatics. Indeed, when news of his confirmation as the new manager of Manchester United broke, a list of how to deal with van Gaal in news conferences was released as well. Journalists began to prod him in these conferences, seeking juicy quotes rather than pieces of information.

After saying he preferred to work with a football team on a daily basis rather than the slower pace of national management, the Dutch press tried to make their readers believe van Gaal was reluctantly going to Brazil with Netherlands. Van Gaal, on the other hand, was unmoved. He started to set out his vision and called on his two senior men, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, to help him. Pundits mocked LVG for a perceived negative approach to his job, but ultimately, he ensured his side arrived at the World Cup in the best possible shape.

Louis van Gaal and Robin van Persie enjoy a close working relationship -- and they will work together at Manchester United next season.

He had to defend his principles, choices and philosophy for two years. While others would see a dismissive, negative coach, van Gaal never stopped being van Gaal. He constantly thought ahead and about how to dismantle Spain. The way his side embarrassed the reigning champions was vindication for him.

While not everyone has been won over -- predecessor Bert van Marwijk has said the Netherlands played better football under him in 2010 -- the majority of Oranje fans are now firmly on van Gaal's side. He has proven that the biggest criticism, the failure to deal with star players, is nonsense. In addition, Nigel de Jong once only knew about the existence of the opponents' goal through hear say, but now the tough midfielder enjoys getting forward and attacking. Van Gaal has also liberated Daley Blind and Daryl Janmaat and his constant innovation is proven by the tale of Dirk Kuyt, who played as a left wing back against Chile in another tactical masterclass.

While England is the home of football and Brazil is its heart, the Netherlands provides the aesthetics. Pleasing on the eye and possessing a severe threat in attack, van Gaal's side have got the rest of the competition worried. Indeed, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has already criticised the Netherlands' coach. Perhaps he is concerned that van Gaal is ready to steal the crown he covets? This, quite simply, is a man who knows exactly what to do to get the best out of his team.