I said it here before and many of you concurred: Louis van Gaal is a wonderful coach. Great tactician. Good training material. Yadda yadda yadda. But he’s also a bit of a wanker. Big Ego. And not capable of not taking himself too seriously… We all said it: we will have some fun with Louis too, on the way to Brazil.
And I once mused….wouldn’t it be great to be a fly on the wall at times?
Well, a journalist of VI, the Dutch football magazine, offered us this perspective. Michel van Egmond gives us his story about what is going on behind the scenes. When Oranje “did” Asia, he was present.
Here it is.
“Bejing is a wonderous city. You can see soldiers guarding something vague on the weirdest spots. People talk in some weird language, with mouth caps for. And eat anything on four legs. Except maybe the table. But the most hallucinating image on that particular morning is offered up not by a Chinaman but a Dutchman. He strolls through the massive door of the Peninsula Hotel and even Chinese taxi drivers push the brake to have a better look. And would you believe it: a middle aged guy, right out of his bed, walks out of the hotel, yawning and scratching his right leg, dressed in orange slippers and an orange robe…
More interesting than the games Oranje play, are the press conferences Louis gives. The KNVB wants to do their best to show that Louis is not really the grumpy old man we all think he is. But everytime they try and position him differently, he mucks it up and comes across even worse!
How’ bout this one? The KNVB has organised a big suite in the hotel. Nice fruit, saucers with cookies, chocolates and fresh tea and coffee. And a nice Chinese wait person to help with all the necessities. Van Gaal is chatting with press officer Kees Jansma. The media people slowly come into the room. Van Gaal ignores them at first. People go up to him to greet him. Van Gaal would never greet first. As a Radja, he expects people to come to him. He doesn’t say anything but gives short nods. To some he says nothing more than “good afternoon”. Van Gaal doesn’t do visits. Van Gaal does audiences. Like the Pope.
Van Gaal turns around to Jansma and says: “That’s it?”.
Jansma: “I think so.”
Van Gaal seems to think he deserves more journalists. Then he says: “Ok go ahead”.
The first journo says: “Are you happy with the way things are going?”.
Van Gaal: “Yes”.
Awkward silence. The team manager is a master in giving his public the feeling they are not welcome. People always laugh nervously when he makes a joke. Because he is not a stand up comic. His jokes are not funny. People laught to break the ice. Everyone desperately tries to break the ice… And then he picks up and starts to talk. About the program, the preparation, about Wesley Sneijder and more. In a somewhat condenscending tone. But, as we all know, once Van Gaal talks football he doesn’t sell bullshit. He knows what he is talking about. But ouch….suddenly the door opens and a Chinese reporter comes in. Too late.
Van Gaal: “Well you are too late!” and sits straight up into his chair.
(A day earlier, Van Gaal was late for a practice session with Chinese youngsters. Close to a 100 kids had to wait for the coach, eleven minutes to be precise, due to traffic jams. But this fact didn’t give any cause for self reflection )
Van Gaal acts the gym teacher from the 1950s again: “Too late, means…in my class you can’t come in!”.
Reporter: “Apologies apologies”.
Another question. Does Van Gaal think there is a risk in selecting young players, as they lack consistency and sometimes will have a setback in their performance?
Van Gaal: “Oh, you are trying to talk me into something? I don’t believe that!”
Reporter: “Eh no, I am not trying to talk you into anything… It’s not a suggestion, it is how it is, I believe.”
Van Gaal: “No, you are suggesting things. That young players can’t sustain their level. That is your theory. But I won the CL with kids of 20 year old. So, what you say is bullshit.”
A bit aggressive for a pretty normal question… Another reporter doesn’t want to give up on this topic and supports his colleague… Van Gaal: “And how bout Sneijder then? He doesn’t play at a constant level either. He’s 29 years old! Or Robin van Persie? You must have noticed that he hasn’t scored for a spell at Man United? Has nothing to do with age. That is what you, the media, make up!”
The tone of the meeting starts to make it Monty Pythonesque. Van Gaal is looking for a rift. One reporter asks if Sneijder’s form has anything to do with Sneijder’s lifestyle? Maybe Wesley is living it up too much? Can I ask that, the reporter adds.
Van Gaal: “No! No, you can not ask this. That is not decent. You don’t have any dealings with his personal life. How do you think you are?”
And when another reporters wants to know if Van Gaal can help Sneijder getting fit again, he again is annoyed. “No of course not! I only see him eight times per year and then I can’t even train with him properly. Because if I make Sneijder work too hard, you guys will start to criticise me again!”
Most reporters start to giggle. They can’t stop themselves. Van Gaal rants on: “This has all happened. All of this. And then you guys think you are the coach!”
And he stops talking.
I try: “But why would you care? What does it matter if some newspaper writes you train to hard? You are the team manager?”
Van Gaal: “I don’t care.”
Me: “Well, it seems like you do….”
Van Gaal: “I don’t.”
Van Gaal: “No. But I can give my opinion what is in the media?”
Me: “Sure. You can do whatever you want.”
Van Gaal: “Or is it only permitted for you to criticise me but I can’t criticise you?”
Me: “No, I never said that. No please, criticise us!”
Van Gaal: “Oh, so I can?”
Me: “Sure! It’s entertaining!”
Van Gaal: “Oh well, thank you that this is allowed.”
Another reporter heard that Sneijder had “left the meeting when Van Gaal informed him he was no longer skipper”. He wanted to know what that meant? Did Sneijder leave the room or did he leave the trainings camp….?
This is a detail. Louis could have said: “Oh he went to his room.”
But Louis didn’t. This is what Louis did, raising his voice: “Oh you are a piece of work! You are an irritating little chap, aren’t you? Un-be-liev-able… Always taking the negative approach!! He went to his room! Plain and simple.”
Reporter: “I’m just doublechecking the facts.”
Louis: “So why didn’t you ask: did he go to his room?? Why does it have to be “or did he leave the camp?”… No my friend!”
Reporter: “Why are you being so worked up?”
Van Gaal: “I’m not!”
Reporter: “You are very wound up!”
Van Gaal: “No, I simply criticise the question.”
And he is silent again.
Reporter: “Louis, your whole body language and tone…it’s all so condenscending. Is it us? Or do you despise all the media?”
Van Gaal: “There are people in the media I respect.”
Reporter: “But these people are not in this room?”
Van Gaal: “And you are putting words in my mouth again!”
Reporter: “No, it’s a simple question.”
Van Gaal: “Oh you are simply asking questions… A top journalist you are, simply asking some questions. You have to stay sharp man.”
“I am the best!”
Van Gaal is not present when the Oranje squad visits the Forbidden City later. The security people are with the players though. Although Jasper Cillisen and Jens Toornstra and Erik Pieters have nothing to fear from the people there. No one knows them. No one cares. Louis is not coming along. He might not care too much for culture or he is too busy. He was watching the Young Oranje games every night. When that team reached the semi finals in Israel he said: “I am not surprised. I expected them to.”
Nothing in his communication betrays anything that looks like self doubt. And maybe this is why people respond so fiercely to him. Someone who is so tremendously convinced of himself…you don’t see it in Wenger, Capello, Ancelotti, Heynckes or Guardiola. And he is never boring. His press conferences, even after totally boring and irrelevant games, are great. The only thing more fun than a press conference by Louis van Gaal is a press conference by Louis van Gaal in an other language.
Van Gaal believes that the others need to adjust to him. He loves literal translations of Dutch expressions and has baffled many in English, Spanish and German already.
The Barca players never understood him when he said “No Balon Hospital!”. And so he started to explain that concept.
Van Gaal takes himself so seriously that when the Chinese reporters start to ask the most silly questions at the press conference later, he will respond the only way he can: seriously.
Chinese reporter: “Mr Van Gaal, is it true you lost weight?”
Van Gaal raises his eyebrows. Looks at Jansma.
The reporter: “I mean, you look thinner now.”
Van Gaal: “That is correct. I had a hip operation some time back and I lost some kilos.”
Van Gaal was showered with applause after every question in Indonesia. In China, they don’t do that. But there are not critical questions and every reporter wants on the photo with Mr Van Gaal. One even says: “I am a big fan, Mr Van Gaal!”.
Louis acts as if that is normal.
An English journalist gets the last question: “Why would you want to work in the EPL? There is a lot of pressure on coaches in England?”
Van Gaal: “You clearly don’t know how much pressure there is in Holland. Ask your colleagues!”
Then he gets up. And spreads his arms, says “Thank You” and makes a deep bow. Kees Jansma smiles from ear to ear…
The Louis Show is over….”
In Germany, the comparisons between Van Gaal and a certain other famous personality were quite poignant…