Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal shows Manchester United his pragmatic approach


The lesson for Manchester United fans from Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands team’s performance in Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final was that the Dutch coach will cut his cloth accordingly – and he is not afraid to pick a team that will park the bus if he judges that the best way of prevailing. This is, after all, the man who schooled Jose Mourinho in the Chelsea manager’s early days as an assistant at Barcelona.

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It would have been the perfect start to roll into Old Trafford as the World Cup-winning manager, but the Netherlands’ 0-0 draw with Argentina and defeat on penalties showed up the limitations the Dutch coach had to work with in getting his squad to the final four.

In his post-match press conference, Van Gaal admitted as much. He said that neither side created much, although it was certainly his Dutch team that were the more reluctant to come out and attack their opponent. “There was a balance in the match despite having people like Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, Lavezzi, Messi and Aguero,” Van Gaal said. “And yet few chances were created. That says something about the tactical match we witnessed.”

It was a pity for him to go out this way, having been one of the coaches of the tournament thus far. The 62-year-old’s decision to bring on Tim Krul for the penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final against Costa Rica was ingenious if only for the doubt that it planted in the opposition’s mind. By the time penalties against Argentina came around, Van Gaal had used his substitutions and Jasper Cillessen did not stop a single kick.

Van Gaal was clear afterwards about his reasons for making the earlier changes. Bruno Martins Indi, substituted at half-time, was not playing well enough, he said, and was on a yellow card. Jordy Clasie offered more going forward than Nigel de Jong. Robin Van Persie was simply exhausted. Even so, given the attacking players he had at his disposal it was a pity that Arjen Robben and Van Persie exited the World Cup finals without having a meaningful shot at goal in their semi-final.

Van Gaal is back on the touchline tomorrow for the third-place play-off against Brazil in Brasilia, in what promises to be an intriguing game, if only for the response of the Brazil team to their  7-1 semi-final defeat. Van Gaal said on Wednesday that he wished he did not have to play that game and it may have something to do with the fact that he is due in the dug-out 11 days’ later for the first of Manchester United’s tour games in  the United States, against the LA Galaxy at the Rose Bowl.

A gruelling schedule awaits the new United manager, although at least he will get his midweeks off with no European football to worry about. He goes from having taken the Robben-Van Persie-Sneijder generation to the last four of the World Cup, including the 5-1 demolition of Spain, to trying to resurrect the most successful English club of all time (in terms of domestic trophies).

In charge of the Netherlands, Van Gaal got much from a limited squad. Beyond his big three, he had to work with a defence that was largely imported wholesale from Feyenoord, the runners-up in the Dutch Eredivisie last season. He is famous for working with the tools that are given to him, so that does not necessarily mean that he will impose on United the three-man defence that he has worked with at this tournament. Although it would be fascinating – and very brave – to see it implemented at Old Trafford. Everton right back Seamus Coleman pursues Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney Van Gaal now has to lead Manchester United back into the Champions League

Patrice Evra has asked to depart United, it has emerged, leaving Van Gaal without a long-serving player who had previously signed a contract extension, but then Evra would only have given him one more season. The new manager is expected to be at Old Trafford to be presented to the press as early as Thursday, with the club’s rebuilding process still ongoing following the signings of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera.

By 2 August, Van Gaal will have been in charge of four friendlies already for United, including that game in LA, followed by Roma, Internazionale and Real Madrid and a potential fifth in Miami on 4 August should they make the final of that pre-season competition. He will have spent more time as United manager in the US than in Manchester – and after the summer he has had will feel like he is due a holiday. The hard work is only just beginning.

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