At the respectable age of 62, Louis van Gaal can to look back on an impressive managerial career. Having led top sides like Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, his trophy cabinet is filled, and he has earned a reputation as one football’s greatest and most innovative managers.
But before the Dutchman packs his bags and moves to Portugal – where he plans to spend his retirement – he has two lifelong ambitions left to fulfil: to manage a major international side at the World Cup, and a team in the Premier League.
For a moment, it looked as if Van Gaal’s first wish stood in the way of his second wish. In December last year, when André Villas-Boas was sacked and Tottenham Hotspur were looking for a new manager, Van Gaal reportedly snubbed Daniel Levy when the Spurs chairman came to visit him in Holland. The World Cup comes first, Van Gaal told the Dutch press when asked about the rumours, and that was that. There was no time for anything else.
- Name Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal
- Born Amsterdam, 8 Aug 1951
- Playing position Midfielder
- Played for Ajax, Royal Antwerp, Telstar, Sparta Rotterdam, AZ
- Managed Ajax 1991-97, Barcelona 1997-2000, Netherlands 2000-02, Barcelona 2002-03, AZ 2005-09, Bayern Munich 2009-11, Netherlands 2012-
But with the World Cup drawing near, the question on people's minds is what will happen after the summer. Surely Van Gaal, who always seems to thrive when he has his mind set on a certain goal, won't just give up on his Premier League dream?
No, he won’t, judging by recent statements from the man himself. As a matter of fact, he seems dead set on moving to England as soon as the World Cup ends. Take a recent interview with Bild, for example. "My ambition is to coach a top team in the Premier League," Van Gaal told the German newspaper. " I want to win the league title in a fourth country. That’s my objective and I want to fulfil it."
Luckily for Van Gaal, there is a chance of some Premier League vacancies next summer. Strong rumours of Spurs’ interest are still doing the rounds, as increasingly are Manchester United, whose manager David Moyes has drawn heavy criticism all season. Of course, both Spurs and United would be perfect destinations for Van Gaal, and conversely, any Premier League club would do well to look into the possibility of appointing him. Here's why.
He’s very good with youngsters
Back in 1995, Van Gaal’s Ajax side won the Dutch league without losing a single game. But what’s more, they did what was thought to be impossible: they won the Champions League. A year later they almost did the same, only this time they lost the final against Juventus after a penalty shoot-out.
While these achievements are certainly extraordinary in their own right, consider the make-up of Van Gaal’s squad: most of the first team were fresh graduates from Ajax’s famous youth academy (Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Edwin van der Sar to name a few). Patrick Kluivert, Ajax's top scorer that year, was only 18 years old when he netted the winning goal in the Champions League final against AC Milan.
Celebrating young Patrick Kluivert's European Cup-winning goal
Having spent a significant amount of money in last summer’s transfer window, Spurs now boast an impressive roster of relatively young and inexperienced players. Christian Eriksen, who has played for Ajax and has years of experience with the type of attacking football Van Gaal likes to play, is only 22, just like Erik Lamela, who so far has failed to impress current Spurs boss Tim Sherwood.
With everything he learned early in his career at Ajax, Van Gaal would be the perfect man to forge this group of youngsters into a cohesive, match-winning team. Similarly, other Premier League clubs looking for a manager to guide a young squad to future success should take note.
He knows how to manage superstars… most of the time
During Ajax’s Champions League-winning season, Van Gaal didn’t just rely on young talent alone. He made sure to add some experience to the mix, which is why he signed Milan star Frank Rijkaard in 1993. Symbolically enough, it was Rijkaard who gave Kluivert the assist for his Champions League winner - a clear example of experience and young talent working together effectively.
- Champions League 1995
- UEFA Cup 1992
- UEFA Super Cup 1995, 1997
- Intercontinental Cup 1995
- Eredivisie 1994, 1995, 1996, 2009
- KNVB Cup 1993
- Johan Cruijff Shield 1993, 1994, 1995
- La Liga 1998, 1999
- Copa del Rey 1998
- Bundesliga 2010
- DFB-Pokal 2010
- DFB-Supercup 2010
However, Van Gaal’s treatment of star players hasn’t always worked out well. At Barcelona, the Dutch manager’s rows with Rivaldo, who wanted to play as a central playmaker rather than a winger, ended in tears when the Brazilian superstar was dropped altogether. Similarly, at Bayern Munich Van Gaal didn’t get along with Franck Ribéry, to say the least. You don’t mess with Van Gaal; that much seems to be clear.
Recently, Robin van Persie voiced some discontent about some of his Manchester United team-mates taking up spaces that he would like to play in. With Van Gaal in charge, no player would air their dirty laundry in public like this - he simply wouldn’t allow it.
With age comes experience, with experience comes stature
Van Gaal has managed Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the Dutch national team. He has won the league in every country he’s worked in, and the Champions League. No matter what you might think of his ideas and vision, it can’t be denied that his experience and rank commands stature. Unsurprisingly, he’s widely respected in the football world; by players as well as his colleagues in management, not to mention the fans.
Granted, he has never stayed at the same side for years on end, taking his time to perfect a squad through the course of a decade. But much like Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, Van Gaal has been through it all. Having already encountered every problem managers face, the Dutchman is one of the few managers in football confident enough to take on any big job.
As one of the giants of management, there are few names comparable to him. And what's more, they’re not for hire very often. In that regard, this summer will offer a unique opportunity to Premier League clubs: Van Gaal is available, and up for the task.