Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal found himself at a rather unique situation at Brazil 2014.
The Dutch media had already written off Oranje’s chances of winning the World Cup, or even venturing too far past the group stages, but van Gaal entered the tournament with a point to prove, following news that he would take over at Manchester United ahead of next season.
The 62 year-old already boasts an envious CV, including Bundesliga, La Liga, Eredivisie and Champions League titles throughout spells with Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AZ. But having never plied his trade in the Premier League before, in England at least, there is a shroud of mystery surrounding the now-stepped down Holland gaffer, whose reputation as a managerial maverick tends to precede him.
Well, the Brazil 2014 gave us a fantastic insight into the incoming Carrington boss, and with that in mind, here’s a list of the FIVE things we’ve learnt about Louis van Gaal from Holland’s World Cup campaign.
Before the World Cup, there were concerns over how Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie would fit into Louis van Gaal’s 4-3-3 formation, a system he’s continually championed throughout spells at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
But Brazil 2014 showed the Manchester United gaffer’s ability to adapt and experiment. Despite favouring the 4-3-3 formation for much of his Netherlands tenure too, before the World Cup he made the surprising switch to 3-5-2, which Oranje went on to stick with for the entire tournament:
It completely gazumped Spain in Holland’s opening fixture – a now famous 5-1 victory – and perhaps most importantly addressed Oranje’s intrinsic weakness of a lack of established quality at centre-back.
Thus, rather than one of Rooney, Mata or RVP getting the boot this summer as rumoured by some…
— Goal UK (@GoalUK) May 25, 2014
It’s more likely van Gaal will find a system that accommodates for all three.
A product of the total football era, it’s no secret that Louis van Gaal favours attacking football. But to what degree truly came of light amid the World Cup, with the Netherlands’ 15 goals only bettered by eventual winners Germany (18).
Some of which included Arjen Robben’s sensational solo run against Spain…
…Robin van Persie’s header, also against Spain…
…and Daley Blind’s stunning take to pour on Brazil’s misery in the third-place Play-off.
Considering Holland also finished their World Cup qualifying campaign with the most goals scored of any European side, a ridiculous 34 goals in ten matches, it’s safe to assume it will be goals galore at Old Trafford next season.
Tim Krul reveals what he told Costa Rica players during the penalty shootout. pic.twitter.com/ozneE7g3a7
— Just Football (@JustFutball) July 6, 2014
Have you ever seen a manager bring on a goalkeeper exclusively for a penalty shoot-out before?
Apparently then-Southend boss Paul Sturrock did the old goalie switcheroo during January 2013 in the JPT, but to do it at a World Cup final takes Phil Mitchell levels of bottle.
In the last minute of extra time during their quarter-final tie with Costa Rica, Louis van Gaal switched Holland No.1 Jasper Cillessen – who allegedly, has never saved a penalty in his competitive career – with Newcastle’s Tim Krul.
Whether a rational decision, a moment of madness or simply a psychological ploy, there’s no doubt the substitution had the desired effect:
Equally brave was LVG’s decision to utilise Dirk Kuyt as a wing-back. The former Liverpool star has plied his trade as a striker and a winger previously, but moving him even further back into a five-man defence proved to be an inspired selection choice, as seen below:
— Vladimir Vulic (@vulicvladimir) July 6, 2014
For a club once immortalised by Alan Hansen’s ill-fated quote “you can’t win anything with kids”, Manchester United’s youth policy has lost its way in recent years.
But the Netherlands’ World Cup campaign suggests Louis van Gaal will be more than prepared to address that balance at Old Trafford – as detailed below, his squad included just one player over the age of 30 and eleven aged 25 or under:
That includes centre-back partners Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi, both aged 22, who racked up 13 out of a possible 14 World Cup appearances between them, and impact sub Memphis Depay, aged 20, who claimed two goals from the bench, including this strike against Australia:
If you wish to compare that to other World Cup squads, here’s a graph.
But perhaps most importantly, not only did LVG bring a host of young talent to Brazil 2014, but he also gave them all a chance to impress and gain experience. The only player not to feature for Oranje was unfortunately Swansea City’s Michel Vorm.
— Lee Morán (@lee_moran) June 18, 2014
It’s not as if we didn’t know Robin van Persie and Louis van Gaal enjoyed a you’re-like-the-father-I-never-had relationship before the World Cup, and it’s not as if the Manchester United striker is in particular need of some added motivation, having netted 48 times in 76 appearances for the Red Devils.
But Brazil 2014 produced further evidence that LVG is capable of bringing an even higher level of performance out of the 30 year-old, who netted four times in six World Cup appearances – the most of any Netherlands player – as detailed below:
That includes this mouth-watering strike against Ecuador…
…and this clinical spot kick against Brazil.
The last time RVP was in hot form, he fired Manchester United to their 13th Premier League title. Just sayin’.