Perhaps not surprisingly for someone nicknamed the ‘Iron Tulip’ due to his disciplinarian ways, Louis van Gaal has always split opinion. He has certainly spent little time worrying about what his players think of him.
Judging by his occasional outbursts during Manchester United’s public training session at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Tuesday night, he is not about to change his ways.
The 62-year-old may have offered reassurances to last season’s under-performers that he will judge them on their merits before seeking new recruits, but he was quick to remonstrate with any misfiring players during shooting practice in California.
“Focused arrogance” is the secret to his success, according to the man himself in a popular YouTube video. That fits with much we have seen and heard about the Dutchman down the years.
The Italian striker Luca Toni told German magazine Sport Bild that van Gaal was quick to show the superstars in his Bayern Munich days – including three of the biggest stars from the World Cup in Brazil, Arjen Robben, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger – that he didn’t fear their reputations or egos.
“The coach wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player, it was all the same to him because, as he said, he had the balls,” said Toni. “He demonstrated this literally (by dropping his trousers). I have never experienced anything like it, it was totally crazy. Luckily I didn’t see a lot, because I wasn’t in the front row.”
Van Gaal, cojones and all, has managed some of the most successful sides in European history and his tactical acumen, if not his man management, is widely admired.
This is the man who, after guiding a brilliant Ajex team to three Dutch titles and a Champions League triumph, picked up the reins at Barcelona from Sir Bobby Robson and duly delivered to the expectant Catalans two La Liga crowns and a Copa del Rey.
Despite clashing with some of the bigger names in the dressing room, most notably the Brazlian Rivaldo, he saw something special in the home-grown Pep Guardiola and made him captain. “Pep saw the game and had the communication skills to structure the team, both on the pitch and in the dressing room,” Van Gaal observed of his time at the Nou Camp.
The Dutchman was credited at Barca with reintroducing the notion of relentless pressing when without the ball and thus dominating possession, something Guardiola soon adopted when he took over, and it was a trait also familiar in Van Gaal’s Bayern Munich teams. Guardiola has since followed his steps to Bavaria, where again there are similarities in style.
Although his first stint in charge of Holland ended with their failure to reach the 2002 World Cup, Van Gaal earned a second spell after returning to club football and enjoying further success with AZ Alkmaar and Bayern.
That ended with his reputation strengthened further, as the Dutch swept Spain aside on their way to a creditable third place in Brazil.
Now he focuses his arrogance on the fallen champions of England. Already, things are starting to look interesting.