Louis van Gaal: What the great and good have said about the Manchester United target - 'He's always right - you are wrong'

Van Gaal has the conviction and charisma to shake up United. Those who have worked with the Dutchman tell Robin Scott-Elliot of his coaching talents – and a surprising sensitive side

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s list might not be far off that initially scribbled down by Ed Woodward: Mourinho, De Boer, Guardiola. Yet Hasselbaink is not drawing up a fantasy shortlist of candidates for Manchester United’s chief executive – his roll-call is of those who have come under the influence of the favourite to become United’s next manager. They have learnt from Louis van Gaal, a man according to Hasselbaink who sees everything and, in the words of a former team-mate, is certain he knows everything, too.

Hasselbaink is taking his own first steps as a coach at the same Royal Antwerp club where Van Gaal began his first-team career 41 years ago. “Of course,” says Hasselbaink when asked whether his formative approach to coaching is swayed by the manager who chose him for the Netherlands. It is though, Hasselbaink points out, not just about him – far better to consider who else has passed through Van Gaal’s hands over a 23-year managerial career.

“If you look at [Jose] Mourinho he has learnt from Van Gaal,” says Hasselbaink. “If you look at Frank de Boer he has learnt from him – a lot of trainers have taken a lot from him, even [Pep] Guardiola has taken a lot from him. So he must be good.”

Van Gaal would agree with that. It did not take long after his arrival at Belgium’s oldest club in 1973, having failed to break through at Ajax, for the midfielder’s team-mates to become aware of his sense of self-worth.

“When he came here when he was 18 or 19 he was already thinking and talking like a coach, and acting like a coach,” says Roger van Gool, the former Belgium international. “When he thought something was wrong he would mention it to the coach. You could see he would become a coach even then. There was something about his character.”

 

Van Gool describes Van Gaal, schooled in the 1970s Ajax traditions, as a better player than many give him credit for but limited by a lack of pace. He sat on the bench for most of his first season a run of games after injury to others. Van Gaal then informed coach Guy Thys that if he dared drop him it would mean Van Gaal’s “wife knew more about football than him.” Thys, who was later to guide Belgium to the 1986 World Cup semi-finals, dropped him.

“Louis is good company,” says Van Gool. “As a human being he is top. He has heart. The point is if you talk about football it is difficult. In football he is right and you are wrong. You can discuss football for hours and hours with him but he will never admit you are right.

“Of course, some people will not like him [because of his confidence]. But he has a very good character. He wants to help people. He can listen. Too many people have the wrong impression about him.”

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink  

Hasselbaink and Shota Arveladze, the former Rangers and Georgia striker who was Van Gaal’s assistant when they won the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar in 2009, agree it is too convenient to label him as simply overbearing. Yes he is confident, supremely so, yes he does not brook any opposition in the dressing room, but, just as with Sir Alex Ferguson, this is no one-dimensional dictator.

“Tell me a coach at the top who is not a tough man,” says Arveladze, now managing Kasimpasa in the Turkish league. “It is naïve to think you can get to that level by being soft. I don’t think Alex Ferguson won things by being a nice guy. Van Gaal is honest. He trusts himself and he believes in himself. Of course, sometimes he smashes up the dressing room or something like that. But other times he will come in and praise everybody.”

Hasselbaink too sees more than one side to a man who once dropped his pants while manager of Bayern Munich to show Luca Toni he literally had the balls for the job.

“He can be hard but he is very soft on the other side,” says Hasselbaink. “If players have a problem he is very helpful. He is big on family – if people have problems with family or something like that he will always help. But he is a big disciplinarian. He has everything, he sees everything – and I mean everything – and he does not allow people to drop their standards.”

Giggs might be forced out from the coaching side of things if Van Gaal is appointed Giggs might be forced out from the coaching side of things if Van Gaal is appointed  

Van Gaal fell out with Toni at Bayern but that was only a hiccup. The beginning of the end of his time in Munich came in early 2011 when he dropped his goalkeeper Hans-Jörg Butt, who had been playing well, for an untried youngster, Thomas Kraft. Bayern’s season went downhill and for the club hierarchy, already struggling to handle Van Gaal, that was the beginning of the end. Uli Hoeness, the former club president, said after Butt was dropped it all “started to get messy”.

Butt says: “[Van Gaal] has a very strong character – he wants to be the boss and he wants the players to do what he wants. Sometimes that is a little bit difficult with players who have their own ideas. As a football coach he is very good. He makes the football easy. He can explain his idea to the team and his idea for working when everybody on the field does what he wants.

“At the end at Bayern it was difficult – with the relationship between the president [Hoeness] and him. I think [dropping me] was a bad decision. It was not understandable. Until the winter break we were in every competition and successful and through that decision it changed the run of things and that was one of the first steps towards his dismissal.”

At Alkmaar, the smallest club he has managed, Van Gaal decided in 2008 he had had enough as a string of results went against him. It was the players’ fault he believed. The squad begged him to stay. He stayed and next season they won the title. “I have worked with many coaches but nobody like him,” says Arveladze. “He gets the best out of the best. He makes players better players. He has the art of making you see the way he sees the game. It is always about attack, attack, attack. He is a phenomenal coach.”

Louis van Gaal together with Robin van Persie Louis van Gaal together with Robin van Persie  

The sense from Hasselbaink and Arveldaze is players in Van Gaal’s teams run that extra mile for him. But for those outside the tent it is a notably chillier experience. Butt describes his later relationship with Van Gaal as “difficult.” Van Gool believes confrontation – which seems inevitable, given the Dutchman’s unshakeable belief – in part arises because Van Gaal is also surprisingly easily hurt.

“If you are a journalist and you write 90 per cent good about him and 10 per cent bad, it is the 10 per cent that he will talk about,” says Van Gool. “He will try to convince you you are wrong. He is oversensitive about what people say about him. That is why he is often fighting with the press.”

Hasselbaink spent the best part of a decade playing in England with Leeds, Chelsea and Middlesbrough. He has an almost Van Gaalian level of confidence that this is the right man for Old Trafford – a confidence echoed by Butt, who believes, despite their differences, he is a “good choice”. Arveldaze too sees him succeeding at Old Trafford, suggesting “he knows the culture of English football. He is a smart man.”

Hasselbaink says: “It will be great for Van Gaal and great for United. Van Gaal is somebody who can start from the beginning and Man United need to start all over again. There is no better man than Van Gaal to do that. He will be a great success in England. One thing is for sure, there will be only one boss and that will be Van Gaal. Nobody else.”

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?