Holland boss Louis van Gaal is ready for a final roll of the dice as he bids to finally end their wait for a first World Cup in what is probably the last dance for the former Man United manager
Louis van Gaal slipped effortlessly into his role as the wise old man of this World Cup, as he made a case for the Netherlands finally winning football’s biggest prize and offered a few reasons why they might not.
He held court for half an hour in Doha, insisting on speaking in Dutch, dodging a question about Memphis Depay’s rap music and happily posing for selfies on his way out of the auditorium.
This is probably Van Gaal’s last dance.
Holland boss Louis van Gaal (left) speaks to the media ahead of their match against Senegal
He is 71, into his third spell in charge of the Dutch national team, taking the job after five years out of football following his two seasons at Manchester United.
In April, he revealed on a TV show he had been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, having kept this quiet during the qualification campaign.
‘Whether it’s my last tournament as national coach, I think so but you never know and I keep insisting on that,’ Van Gaal said. ‘I accepted this job because there was no one else available at the time, and I took the job five years after I left Manchester so that tells you enough.’
He was in charge in 2014 in Brazil when a Dutch team featuring Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder lost on penalties to Argentina in the semi-final and claims this vintage is better.
‘I believe in this group of players,’ said Van Gaal. ‘In 2014, we came third with a squad of lesser quality and with this group I expect more. But it depends. Not only on technical and tactical skills but also on luck that you score at the right time or the other team don’t.’
Van Gaal is hoping to finally end Holland’s wait for a first ever World Cup trophy in Qatar
He nodded towards Virgil van Dijk, sitting beside him at the press conference, hailed him ‘an exceptional captain’ and added: ‘This group is together, well connected in a professional way and that will always contribute to success. They really want to carry out what we agree on which is also important.
‘I’ve been a coach for more than 30 years and there are always players that disagree and don’t want to execute what you say. That leads to lots of issues. What I do is remove them.
‘But this group is keen to execute. We could become world champions but in my view there are other squads on a higher level. Whether we do is another issue.’
Van Gaal, who failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in his first spell in charge of his country, insisted his approach to management was still the same as it had been in 1991 when he stepped up from the backroom team to take charge of Ajax. His journey since has taken him to Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United.
‘That’s simple,’ he said when asked. ‘I never changed. Never changed as a person. Perhaps I developed over the years, gained experience, but I have the same vision.’
That vision, he explained, was to treat his players as humans and play to their strengths so they accept his instructions more readily.
‘As for how football is played, there has been a lot of evolution,’ he said.
The game has become faster, so Van Gaal asks his defenders to be closer together than he did in his last World Cup, in 2014, trusting those such as Van Dijk, who must adjust from the systems they play for their clubs.
Something is working. The Dutch are unbeaten in 15 games and start their Group A campaign today against Senegal, the Africa Cup of Nations champions, who are without Sadio Mane, their star striker absent from the World Cup due to injury.
Van Dijk offered his sympathies to his former Liverpool team-mate and Van Gaal pointed out that, for this game at least, he would be without the Barcelona forward Memphis Depay, one his creative forces.
‘You depend on three or four creative players in your squad and the rest have to serve these,’ he said.
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