It has been said before, when Louis van Gaal manages a team, he becomes the super star of the team. And it seems we had to endure this again.
Sadly for him: should have won and ended up winning the finals, everyone would have accepted his pompous behaviour. But when you are ousted with devastating stats to boot, you can expect the criticism to rain down.
I have never been a great fan of the person that is Louis van Gaal, although as a coach he has demonstrated to have a keen eye. Other than that, I find him bombastic, pedantic and self-obsessed. He is condescending towards players, he is rude to some people of the media and seems to find himself and his image more important that Dutch football or the Dutch NT. Like Mourinho, he does know how to win, but he also is able to implode spectacularly (like Mourinho).
When he got the job, he was the first to claim that we lacked the top quality upfront (nice thing to say to your forwards) and that the only way we could win something would be to play that 5 at the back option. The push back from the media and fans resulting in him re-naming the system. In his own annoying style, it became 1-3-4-1-2. Say what??
Modern coaches seem to speak about systems and shapes less and less (Ten Hag, Pep, Nagelsmann, Gasperini, Slot) and more and more about principles. I think the LVG system didn’t help us play good football and we most exciting bit of football we saw was when we played 3-3-4 in the last 15 minutes of the Argentina game (Luuk and Wout up front, Gakpo and Berghuis wide).
Van Gaal’s Last Dance ended in a colourless, rhythmless clumsy shuffle, with Louis stepping on a number of toes while exiting the dance floor.
And let’s face it: did we have anything to hold on to? Was there anything in our game that gave you the confidence we could get a win at this World Cup? The few flowing attacks versus the USA? We reached penalties versus Argentina as a result of defensive doggedness and pure will. We lost the lottery again, this time after all sorts of scientific penalty approaches on top. Without Weghorst scoring these two late goals, our demise would have been completely embarrassing.
Against Argentina, we didn’t prove to offer anything on the ball. Again. There were no flowing moves, to forward patterns, no breath taking dribbles, no scorching shots from distance. It was poor. We had two shots on target. Both ended up finding the net.
Lets discuss this performance by LVG and the team.
We qualified for the World Cup playing 4-3-3. We started with a loss, rectified it away by Norway with a draw and a win at home, in an empty Kuip. Still, LVG felt we needed 5 at the back to get some results in Qatar. He refused to call it 5-3-2 as it sounded too defensively. But still this is all about security over adventure.
Football has evolved so much, Van Gaal says, that he simply cannot do it differently. All countries play like this, he said. In real life, only Oranje played like this at the quarter finals level and only Morocco had less possession, shots on goal and expected goals. Van Gaal also stated that the Dutch squad doesn’t have enough creativity to play differently. It’s not clear if Frenkie, Memphis, Gakpo, Lang, Berghuis, Bergwijn, Simons and Koopmeiners agree. They all come in front of the camera but most lack the personality to say what they really feel. Only Mathijs de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk spoke out against this system, early in the process. De Ligt lost his spot and Virgil was overruled by the coach.
So who was playing to his strength in this system? Nathan Ake, he had a top tournament. Marten de Roon and Teun Koopmeiners are used to playing this, while Dumfries has the profile to perform well in this system. Where was Frenkie? Our playmaker and most important build up soldier. He was criticised but is this system the right one for him? The Argentines simply put a man on him and Frenkie got isolated with options lacking around him. Virgil did what he could but was clear already earlier on about his preference. Two key players, but Van Gaal wasn’t interested.
We can be brief. Oranje – Senegal. Two late goals, in a weak match. Oranje – Ecuador. The worst game of The Netherlands, with two shots on goal, as opposed to 15 (!) by Ecuador. Oranje – Qatar, a weak performance against the weakest opponent in the tournament. Oranje – USA, a justified win playing counter football, 30% possession in the first half. We did score a wonderful goal, though. Oranje – Argentina, the first match against a strong opponent and based on the quality on the ball, we deservedly lost. So what will stay in our memory? In the list of memories at a World Cup, what remains is 1) the team goal versus USA, 2) the smart Weghorst inspired free kick v Argentina and all the post match drama? We were the most bland team in this World Cup, it seems.
Van Gaal will adept the system to the quality of the players on hand. But the thing is: he selects the players! So he basically selects the players that fit his system. Players who fitted his vision. That is all good, but it’s not a matter of “there are no other choices”. Danjuma is one of our most dangerous forwards, but he was omitted as he “missed tactical training sessions for the 1-3-4-1-2”. Another typical Van Gaal choice: Noppert. Cillesen had to stay home, in a freak decision made at the last minute. Why select him in the first place, if he is poison in the dressing room? Noppert did well in the games, but the whole broohaha of the scientific penalty thing backfired. Van Gaal counted on Frans Hoek getting it right, but Noppert didn’t get close to any of them. Not Noppert’s fault of course. But due to the penalty focus, Van Gaal decided to let his team play out the 30 mins extra time, while he had Plan B on the pitch. And Plan B worked. 82 minutes of drab football in Plan A and 15 exhilarating minutes in Plan B. And when Argentina was on the ropes, Van Gaal reigned his dogs in.
Our best player, which means something…
Van Gaal would pick players on how they “delivered”. Well, Steven Bergwijn? Did he deliver at this World Cup? Why did he start v Argentina? This applied to Teun Koopmeiners, to Memphis, who was positioned as the only player capable of getting us the title. The creative Noa Lang only got 10 minutes in the second half of extra time. Xavi Simons got a go versus USA. They apparently delivered in training but were merely extras in Van Gaal’s blockbuster.
It ended up being the big Louis van Gaal show in Qatar. In The Netherlands, his press conferences are excruciating. He’s narcy, he barks at certain reporters, and has love fests with others. The whole team banned the media team of Veronica Offside. Louis doesn’t understand that the media are basically the mouth and ears of the people, the fans, the ones who pay his salary. He can be very condescending and rude in these cases. But at the World Cup pressers, he tries to turn on the charm: hugging a Senegalese reporter, kissing Dumfries, trying to french kiss Memphis, telling the media he looks like a God, and more. The international media love it. But he also said something that backfired enormously. “Messi doesn’t do anything without the ball” and “in 2014, we kept him quiet, he was invisible”. That was not smart. The little wizard scored a goal, set one up and scored his penalty too. After the game he sought LVG out to tell him: you talk too much!
Messi fuming with LVG
Van Gaal focused a lot on him, and his qualities. The Vision. The system. “Deliver!”. And the lads seemingly created a nice vibe amongst them. Playing games, blaring modern music on a yacht while LVG – as the somewhat nutty uncle – moved his stiff frame on the beat of the music. I am not sure if that vibe was actually so good or whether the players just went with it, what else can you do, while secretly smirking behind his back….
After the loss versus Argentina, Van Gaal immediately pushed the spot light on himself: “I can’t blame myself for anything. We played 20 matches and didn’t lose one single game.” That is clearly what he was about. Not losing. In stead of playing to win. Whoever decides to put the entertainment value on hold, for that so needed result, has to win. If you win, everyone will accept the style and celebrate that the best nation never to win one, has won one. But when you don’t, well… you have failed miserably. It’s about winning, for sure, but we want to win with the football that put us on the map. This is not about systems. About wingers or centre backs dribbling into midfield. It’s about courage, about attacking, dominating the ball and playing flowing football. As we know we can! The USA team goal is an example. The Weghorst free-kick is an example. We lost our identity, and the media from Germany, via Iceland to Brazil have all noticed it. “This is so far removed from the Dutch football DNA” the Argentine media shouted.
Loving Senegalese reporters, loathing the Dutch ones…
Interestingly enough, many coaches in The Netherlands are claiming the Dutch School is outdated and needs to be abandoned. But coaches and players in other competitions do tell stories of how the experts in Germany, England and other nations are constantly asking the same questions: What is wrong with the Oranje? Where is that attacking, recognisable football? Where is the adventure? Our “popularity” in other countries is because of that strong identity. It seems that clubs could now easily take a Polish or Slovakian coach. They play the same way as our current NT and they’re less expensive.
Louis wanted to win the World Cup so much, that he trotted on the Dutch football values, the DNA of attacking and attractive football. Exactly the type of game that made his name in the first place. Even worse, he because it’s biggest enemy. We might not have lost a match under this coach, but we did lose our image and reputation.
For me, the KNVB is the biggest culprit. Our mess all started with the KNVB allowing that ridiculous and offensive clause in Koeman’s contract. He was allowed to leave for Barcelona, leaving Oranje with the mess…
Lets make sure the returning coach starts paying back!
How bout this line up: