The undefeated Dutchman will try to get past Leo Messi in the quarter-finals

At the age of 17, Ronald de Boer was a talented player from the Ajax academy. Louis van Gaal was a young assistant coach at Ajax who wanted to get more out of the boy than he brought to the field. “We were in the dressing room and he looked me straight in the eyes,” de Boer told “Athletic”. “Then he asked: ‘Ronald, are you going to be a good footballer?’. He said it to me in such a way that made me feel like I couldn’t say ‘no’. He got right up to my face. Then he said ‘Because I’m going to be a great coach! ‘”.

De Boer became a player but only after moving to Twente and returning to Ajax to work with the head coach at the time, Louis van Gaal, became an important part of the team that won the Dutch championships, the European championship and countless titles.

Van Hal’s directness and self-confidence, not to mention arrogance, are the things that characterize him throughout his life and career. And for the most part, these are the things that helped him turn his players into highly functional parts of very successful teams.

Van Hal cultivated this style for 12 years as a sports teacher on fields and in classrooms in schools for children and teenagers, especially those from a difficult socio-economic background. “The experience of daily interaction with unmotivated teenagers and with difficult emotional problems gave him a great advantage,” according to Maarten Meyer, Van Gaal’s official biographer. “From these years he gained psychological insights that his colleagues simply don’t have. These are skills he took to deal with professional players, who can be grumpy and tense just like high school kids who require, on the one hand, a lot of understanding and patience, but on the other hand, also tough discipline.”

“Players are like big kids,” Van Gaal said himself a few years ago. “So there is a similarity between being a teacher and being a coach. The difference is in the goal. In school, the goal is educational, but I am a performance animal, which is why I always wanted to work in sports. But, we approach students in a certain way, related to some philosophy just like we approach soccer players.”

These Van Gaal tools are designed to turn players into a team. That’s what he did throughout his career. He turned individuals into a team that functions at the highest level. And if he had to get rid of a brilliant individual who refused to become part of a group, that’s what he did. Van Gaal, over the years, threw players from his teams who did not align with the collective spirit he demanded.

Even when Ballon d’Or winner Rivaldo demanded to play for Louis van Gaal’s Barcelona “as a number 10” instead of on the left of attack, the Dutchman told him that the team needed him on the left and what the team needed was more important than how he felt. “He hates that an individual thinks about himself,” de Boer told “Athletic”. “The newspapers wrote: ‘Rivaldo is the best player in the world, he should play as number 10. Lui thought: ‘He is number 10 but not in my team’. He is very much against it. Even if you are a star, he does not want you to do what suits you but what suits to the group”.

also in this World Cup, Van Gaal believes in the team’s collective quality. “In 2014 we came in third place in the World Cup with a lower quality squad,” he surprised. “I’m talking about the quality of the squad. I expect a lot from the team. Obviously it depends on the technical abilities and even luck, but we can win the World Cup even though there are many better quality players here in Qatar.”

Van Gaal puts special emphasis on the words squad and team. “The players in Holland are well connected. They work together professionally and that always adds to success. They put into practice what we talk about and that doesn’t happen with many teams. And I was a coach for 30 years. There are always players who don’t agree with me and don’t put into practice what I say. There are Countries that don’t have a good team but have great individual qualities. I want to be an example of a good team.”

“He believes in his principles,” said actor Arjen Robben in a documentary about Van Halen. “What you see from him and what he demands from you is what it is. He will not go behind your back and talk about you with one of his assistants. He will not hide behind a mask. He is not like in the rest of football. People put on a show. They say one thing to you and then something else After. He is very direct. Very authentic.”

As a consequence of the fact that Van Gaal does not put any individual above the team, he also always takes care of the last player in the squad. “He is sometimes difficult. Not always the most sociable,” said Maarten Martens, who played for Van Gaal in Alkmaar. “But he’s not only interested in his 3-2 stars. He wants to know what’s going on with the 18th and 19th players. The 19th player is also a human being who wants to improve, feel good or do something good if he doesn’t do the That’s good enough.”

Van Gaal will take care of his staff, his entire staff, and also employment for the entire staff. To the substitute goalkeepers, for example, he gives a task that can prove to be critical – to know how to stop penalties from the next opponents in the knockout phase. They need to study them, and if they need to go up as substitutes, that will give the Dutch team a significant relative advantage in penalty shootouts.

It should be noted that at the age of 71 Van Hal is facing a difficult health and mental condition. Last April he discovered that he was suffering from prostate cancer. In 1994 he lost his first wife, his girlfriend since the age of 18, to cancer. When she was dying of cancer, Ajax’s rival fans would shout horrible things at him about his wife. He obviously took her death very hard. He grew up Catholic in a family with 9 children and after the death of his first wife, Fernanda, he simply stopped believing in God because “if he allows good people to suffer, I don’t want to believe in him anymore”.

Her death also led him to change his approach to interpersonal communication. With everything, it seems, he deals today with uncompromising honesty and great cynicism. “Louis, great tan,” a Holland journalist threw to him before the game against Argentina. “It’s a genetic thing,” Van Gaal replied. “When my mother was lying in her coffin her cheeks were flushed.” People were a bit embarrassed by his words, but this is Van Gaal’s way of dealing. “He’s not scary,” Dutch national team defender Daley Blind once said of Van Gaal. “He’s just brutally honest. And there are people who are frightened by it.”

This Van Gaal approach has worked better and less well in his club career but in the World Cup it works just fine. He is the only coach in history who managed 11 games in the World Cup and did not lose any of them (not including penalties). His team is currently undefeated since August 2021 – 14 games, 9 wins and 0 losses. And if there is a statistic that should scare Argentina and Leo Messi more than anything, it is that the Netherlands have not lost in the World Cup in 19 World Cup games to a non-European opponent. The last loss of the Netherlands to a non-European team was in 1994 – to Brazil. in the quarter finals.

On Friday, Van Gaal’s team will face the genius of Leo Messi, who is surrounded mainly by Argentine players who serve the flea’s needs. It is going to be a meeting between old rivals with such different concepts of football, a meeting between teams that have hurt each other a lot in their history. Van Gaal, as usual, plans to be on the winning side.


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