When things aren’t going your way, visualising success and a turn-around helps. What also helps, is to look at situations that are or were even worse! To give you a pick-me-up.
On special request, an analysis (14 years after the fact) of the biggest Oranje Fail in history (arguably).
So, we failed miserably at the WC1990 (with Gullit, Van Basten, Koeman, Rijkaard, Wouters) but at least we were there! We failed at the Euros2012 but it could have been different if we took our chances vs Denmark. And again: at least we were there! And yes, the Euro2016 qualifications were a shamble, but at least we had the excuse of a generation gap and absentees (Robben!).
In 2000, however, we came out of a Euro2000 tournament we could have won and in which we played some (not all) good football. In 1998, at the WC in France, we actually could have won the whole bloody thing (made it to the semis of course).
So when “inexperienced” Rijkaard resigned after the devastating freak loss vs Italy in 2000, the Dutch Federation decided to give Louis van Gaal his due. The former Ajax and Barca coach was considered the top man for the job in Holland. He was seen as the new football messiah after Cruyff. And more to the point: Louis van Gaal made it clear that HE wanted the job. Now, the problem with Louis is this: yes, he is a very good coach. And yes, he demonstrated he works well with young players (he gets into their head like a real Svengali). But…he also is a narcissistic and dominant bully. And typically for ego-driven people, he wanted the job for him. Not to further Oranje. To be of service to Dutch football. But purely for his resume. The cool thing with people like him (Donald Trump is another example): they are very open about their motivations. “I want this on my resume!”. This is also what he proclaimed when going for the Man United job. “I want to have a title in England on my resume!”. It is all about Louis.
If I was a club or federation director, for me that would be the key reason not to hire him. Coz wherever Louis goes: you might get trophies, but you’ll definitely invite trouble.
Louis stepped into the job thinking he was going for gold. For starters: he really thinks he is the best coach. Secondly, he would be reunited with his Class of 1995 of Ajax success. Thirdly, he figured as an NT coach you have so much time on your hand, someone like him must be able to forge a winning team.
But as usual, he didn’t assess the situation properly. Narcissistic personalities think they can manipulate reality in to something they envision. “Make it so!”.
So, in hindsight, it is clear that: 1) he might be the best club coach but he didn’t “get” what it takes to be an NT manager. It’s a different role altogether! 2) he might have liked the reunion with his former posse but the players were done with him. Most of them had progressed in their football career, with experiences under other coaches. And most of them if not all, did not like to be treated as if they were still 21 years old. Cocu, the De Boers, Van Hooijdonk, Van der Sar, Stam, Witschge… all pushing 30 by now. Mature players. They had all seen Louis’ act by now and they knew all the lines of the script. And 3)…Louis used the time as NT manager to accept a second job at the KNVB: he also acted as the Technical Director. As a result, he developed a masterplan for the KNVB (not unlike Hans van Breukelen is doing now) with a manifest of how amateur coaches needed to work and be trained to do so. A plan that was marvelous as a PhD thesis but unpractical to execute. He spent weeks in lobbying, presenting, debating, clashing with others to push his straightjacket vision onto the pro clubs and amateurs alike. The KNVB would invest in hiring dozens of “Van Gaal clones” to push his vision.
Nothing ever came of that. Icons like Cruyff, Van Hanegem and Wim Jansen torpedoed the plan and most of the clubs felt Van Gaal should focus nicely on qualifying with the NT.
As a club coach, Louis would work as much as he could with the players. Not doing tactics only, but perfecting their skills, working on their mentality, their world vision, the way to behave, think, eat, drink, probably also how to have sex.
As an NT coach, you need to make an environment in which players enjoy themselves. A break from the club. And make sure they stay fit, but don’t work them. Don’t make them work on skills. Don’t try and push their fitness levels. You simply do not have the time to do it. Work on mentality, confidence, tactics. That’s all.
Interestingly enough, in 2001 Van Gaal did state in a press conference that he was ready to abandon the Oranje 4-3-3 and use a two striker system: “I used to select on availability and form of players and the confidence I have in certain players. But with the lack of world class wingers and an overflow of central strikers (Kluivert, Van Nistelrooy, Makaay, Van Hooijdonk, Hasselbaink) I might be tempted to abandon the Dutch style of play.”
Van Gaal overdid it. And after this abysmal qualifications, the Van Gaal proteges of yore, the De Boer’s, Reiziger, Davids et al said they got sick and tired of his antics. Annoyed and agitated with his dominant nature and his treatment.
Anther example of amateurism at the KNVB, as any sane football expert could have told you: Louis is not NT material (yet). He needed this fuck up to perform well in 2014 (again, with younger players he could mould and some older players he simply left alone).
And yes, I have heard the excuses: “it was a tough group”… well…it wasn’t. Republic of Ireland? Yes, always difficult, but we should have beaten them twice in the group stages. The home game, we trailed 0-2 until late in the game and got back to 2-2 thanks to a wonder strike by Gio van Bronckhorst, not unlike his WC2010 semi finals goal. I’ll try and find footage of it (never was able to actually…).
And Portugal, well…they were good. They had an amazing squad, with Figo, Rui Costa, Pauleta, Jao Pinto, Nuno Gomes… But hey…., did you see who we had? Kluivert. Van Nistelrooy. Makaay. De Boer. De Boer. Seedorf. Davids. Stam. Van Bommel. Sar. Overmars.
Another excuse: “we had so many injuries and absentees”… True. De Boer and Davids were unjustly accused of using doping. Stam and Numan had injuries. It always happens. But with this squad, Van Gaal should have found solutions.
In the home game vs Portugal, we did have some bad luck though, although still…something that could have been avoided.
The first goal Portugal scored was a fluke. Some idiot in the stands blew on his whistle. Oranje was pressing but thought the ref stopped the game. Half the Dutch team came to a still stand. Portugal didn’t. They took the ball and went on to score.
Portugal scored their second as Reiziger made a mistake. He was put on as left back. When in possession he decided to go back to his right foot and play the ball back, but it never got to De Boer, who wasn’t able to stop the turn around and Portugal pounced and scored.
I will leave the conclusion of all this to you.
So we drew at home vs Rep of Ireland and Portugal.
We needed a big result away against both. We outplayed Portugal away. 0-2 up with 15 minutes to go. No problem whatsoever. But Van Gaal wanted more than a win. He wanted sweet revenge. So he put two more strikers on. Hoping to humiliate Portugal, but all went south. A red card for Davids. A last minute soft penalty for Figo. End result 2-2.
Still in it, Holland needed a win away vs Rep of Ireland. In the run up, we played a friendly versus England and Kluivert scored two goals on Anfield to boost morale. But the Ireland game was a drama. We had good chances in the first 10 minutes, Kluivert even hit the post and the team felt we could cruise to a win. But the Irish fighting spirit got the better of us. Playing on a bad pitch and with a rugby mentality in the team, it was McAteer who famously scored the only goal of the match and blocked Holland from making it to the World Cup.
In summary (my personal conclusion): some top players were at an age where they lost their desire. Going to the Oranje camp to play and train under Van Gaal felt like a chore for them. The fun was gone. And Van Gaal’s attitude didn’t help. He was unable to refresh the squad and bring young fresh players when required. Van Gaal overdid it in practice and seemed to think qualifying was not a big drama. A necessary evil for him to shine at the World Cup.
In typical Van Gaal style, his press conferences and media presentations were as bad as ever. Not unlike his antics as Man United coach. The media were the enemy. Everyone wanted to attack him.
His press conferences went from: “I have changed. I won’t be insulting journalists anymore. I understand exactly what the KNVB needs and I can do it.”…
To: “SO YOU’RE ALL HAPPY I HOPE? WE DIDN’T QUALIFY??? SO YOU CAN WRITE WHAT A DUMBASS I AM? IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT!!!!!”
And he was the only one to “get” it. Sometimes, he used this to have his team rise up in defence and bond over all the drama. This time around, the players had a gut full of him and basically never stepped up to the occasion…
Interestingly enough, Van Gaal claimed in his final presser that the Federation were happy for him to stay on. But after he spoke with a number of key players, he decided against it. “I didn’t ask them outright if they wanted me out. But I did talk about the way they liked to be managed and guided. Their wishes went against my beliefs. I rule out coincidences. I don’t like a “loose” style of management. So, it was not possible for me to go on.”
Van Gaal did want to stay on as Technical Director to implement his master plan. Luckily, the KNVB decided against it. General Manager Kesler: “Even though I know Louis would not govern in his grave, as the expression goes, I don’t think it would be healthy to have a team manager coming in, while Louis van Gaal – his predecessor – becomes his boss. That is not healthy. The Master Plan is excellent but we’ll need to execute this without Louis van Gaal.”
Holland – Rep of Ireland 2-2
The home game versus Portugal:
And the away game versus Portugal:
And for masochists, the away game vs Rep of Ireland…