“My ambition is that I have the best players who can collaborate with each other to form the best team in the world.”


• by Michel Farid Nasrallah

Louis Van Gaal is set to come out of retirement after four-and-a-half years to take over the Dutch National Team heading into a crucial first week of September with three qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. In this article, I intend to reveal what Dutch players, fans and media should expect in the next 18 months…or less.

First and foremost, the “iron tulip” will preach discipline, on and off the pitch. He will go through every single detail, from being in the bus on time to the hotel requirements and the use of headphones. Hard-worker, consistent, honest, direct and perfectionist, he is one of the most decorated and known team builders from scratch. “I don’t need the 11 best, I need the best 11”, a coach / manager who believes in team over the individual. Expect to witness a thorough analysis of the last match versus the Czech Republic and the last qualifier vs Turkey, followed by specific drills to improve the weaknesses. Look ahead to round tables of 90 minutes to 2 hours of honest communications between players alone, players and the bondscoach, players with the staff. Watch for a team with a clear vision and a clear goal, with “soldiers” willing to fight, especially the star-players; no more rooms for privileges because the man in charge now is someone who couldn’t care less about their little “kingdoms”. “Names matter to the media but not to me”.

Delegating to Staff:

Van Gaal believes that the first and most important task after signing the contract is choosing the staff. With Danny Blind and Henk Fraser probably already on board as assistant coaches, the staff are far from being completed. Van Gaal will have the final say in the necessity of every position and every person to take over that position; physical therapists, masseurs, physiologists, medical team, dietitians, private teachers, and as he did in the Brazilian World Cup, even a climate expert. Even though he acknowledges that sports psychologists with football background are rare to find, he is fully aware of the influence of their presence. As he prefers to work with whom he already knew and worked with, he will certainly start by calling physical therapist Jos Van Dijk, IT expert and video analyst specialist Max Reckers, and goalkeepers coach Frans Hoek.

The Selection:

Being a true believer that fitness in sports is 50% physical and 50% mental, only the players with sharp awareness who are at top form physically AND mentally will be selected. No one’s place is guaranteed, everyone will probably get a chance but will all be on their toes. The international breaks are no leisure times to catch up with old friends. The National Team is no place to regain fitness or confidence. Qualifying as effortlessly as possible will not exist, and players with that mindset will be immediately spotted and disregarded. The fatal mistake of WC 2002 qualifiers shall not be repeated, “My players weren’t hungry enough”.


Before WC 2014, Van Gaal claimed that Strootman, Robben and Van Persie are sure of a spot but everybody else has to fight for it. I guess this time the aforementioned names can be replaced with van Dijk, De Jong and Depay…or not! Youth will surely be introduced, even without being a task imposed by the KNVB, as he reckons that a small group of young players would always stir things up in a team. Known for a tremendous capacity of recognizing talents and turning them into stars for as long as a decade, I would guess that Kluivert, Gakpo and Koopmeiners shall focus to start the season well and wait for a phone call, to form this young group along with Gravenberch and Timber.

Trust that Wijnaldum will have to perform his defensive duties much better than he did after Ronald Koeman left for Barcelona. Depay will execute less backheels, will keep the ball less, will find less complicated solutions, will work harder when out of possession, and the team will certainly NOT revolve around him. Frenkie de Jong will start shooting from outside the box. Multifunctional players will be included, hence a fit Timothy Fosu-Mensah will probably be called again. Louis, the blunt micromanager, will leave no frailties, individually or collectively. However logically, he probably hasn’t already decided on everything. What I believe is still up for debate with his staff is not limited to: Who will partner Van Dijk in central defense…De Vrij or De Ligt? Will Depay be a left winger or a false 9? The starting goalkeeper? Weghorst or Malen? Bergwijn or Berghuis? 4-3-3 or 5-3-2? Who will take the set pieces from each side?

Footage, Data and Video Analysis:

Over the years, Louis Van Gaal has become more of a manager than a coach. His staff is numerous because he now delegates tasks to specialists. Everything he says, does or exposes is intended to motivate a player or a group of players. That’s why he often uses video footages to convey a certain message. After the Euro 2012 disaster with all the gossip on the multiple internal conflicts, he decided to show a part of an episode of Andere Tijden Sport, displaying what happened at Euro 96 and how Guus Hiddink managed to turn it all around for the WC 98.

“My greatest ability is that I can get an extra 10% out of a player”. 10% is a lot! If that 10% is true and accurate with professional talented players of the Dutch National Team, then you are a top coach and your team is bound for success. But Louis doesn’t enjoy that capability thanks to his coaching diplomas; it is due to the fact that he values the intensive use of data and videos analysis a great deal. It has always been a key part in his recent coaching years and it will remain for this final stint. I expect him to keep using Scout7, a large-scale player data base and tracking system that allows him to monitor and assess the players’ performances, their movement and pattern, in which phase they keep losing the ball, how often, how many times they participate in the build-up…etc.


I forecast that all data will be gathered and measured in training sessions and official matches using LPM Soccer 3D (average speed, peak speed, distance covered, number of sprints,…etc) in order to compute the physical loads of the players and enhance the preparation for games. Make sure that you will always catch sight of the famous notebook, where all the mistakes and shifting from pre-planned tactics will be written down. Over the years Louis became more flexible and party acquiesced to the continuous evolvements of modern football. But one theory he won’t ever compromise, the cornerstone of his famous philosophy: LEAVE NOTHING TO CHANCE.

Conclusion:

“I am who I am. I am not going to change and I have no desire to.”

Despite the fact that he had decided to retire at the age of 55 while considering that being a national team coach is borrowing another coach’s players, here he is, a few days before his 70th birthday, taking charge of Oranje for a third time, with seven more matches remaining before the end of the year. No friendlies involved, all seven matches are essential for a direct qualification. Terms like “I need time”, “learning process” or “but the performance was good” are uncalled for. Club mentality no longer applies. Nevertheless, he is still the tactical genius with an illustrious managerial career, it is quite impossible to predict how a team would perform under his reign. He can hit a poor and low ranking with a team like Barcelona but reach two champions league finals in a row and win one of them with an inexperienced and young group of players with Ajax. “I’ve signed a contract with the Dutch national team until 2006, so I can win the World Cup not once but twice.”


He can fail to even qualify to the tournament in 2002 with one of the best Dutch generations of all time, but can also take the 3rd place with an unfancied squad in 2014. More importantly, who is he now? Has he followed the continuous growth of the modern game? Is he still the explosive authoritarian, the knows-it-all schoolmaster? Are we still going to witness the typical ball circulation from side to side, the fallouts with players and the rants at the media? Will the KNVB impose certain tasks other than qualifying and reaching the last four in Qatar? What has he learned from the years of retirement? Have the performances of France at the WC 2018 altered some of his principles? What about the way Chelsea won the last Champions League? What about Guardiola’s unfamiliar line-up in the CL final? What conclusions did he come to from how Mancini led the Italian resurrection to Euro 2020 triumph after they missed the 2018 World Cup…just like Oranje?




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