My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I started reading this book, Van Gaal’s United were in a midst of a crisis (still are). There were questions about his philosophy and processes were in doubt. Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United had spent a quarter of a million pounds and were out of the Champions League and four points from the top four. Media and ex-players along with some fans were calling for his head as his own student Jose Mourinho is waiting in the wings. The question was would Van Gaal go before I finish the book? A month on, I have learnt more about the man, and he is still in his job.
What was expected to be a fairy-tale ending between the world’s most arrogant and single-minded manager and the world’s most famous football club has not gone exactly to plan. Meijer doesn’t really write about LVG and Manchester United, as the biography is of the man and his successes and failures as a player, PE teacher, manager and individual. The book is of course unauthorised but Meijer provides enough information on LVG as a footballer from 1969 to 1987 , his insecurities at Ajax during the Cruyff era, his time in management at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), Holland, Technical Director of Ajax, AK Alkmaar, Bayern Munich, Holland and Manchester United.
He charters the public spats with fellow Dutchmen like Johaan Cruyff, Ronald Koeman, Leo Beenhaker and the Bayern hierachy. His fallout with players like Rivaldo, Lucio and Zlaatan show a man who is ruthless who believes that “no individual is allowed to do as he pleases,” and as he said: “I don’t need the eleven best. I need the best eleven”
The book shows his passion, commitment and focus and determination at all costs, yet despite Van Gaal’s successes on the pitch, the author highlights what has built Van Gaal’s character from his Catholic upbringing and the death of his father at a young age which contributed to his development as a leader who was not prepared to compromise on what he thought was right. Manchester United fans are more or less resigned to believe the Van Gaal era will end up messy and this book only cements that belief. His fallout at Ajax as Technical Director and as coach of Barcelona and Bayern demonstrates that when it falls apart it falls apart spectacularly. Van Gaal has a tendency to alienate key players, the board and large sections of the fanbase, which was the price the faithful paid for early success which ended up in failure due to his single minded arrogance and bad luck with players as was the case with Bayern.
Nevertheless Van Gaal despite what is currently taking place at Manchester United is still at large a footballing legend who many have seen revolutionise the concept of football during his time at Ajax, laid the foundations for Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and managed to gel a group of individuals into a team of World cup semi finalists who destroyed Spain, Australia and Chile in the group stages, beat Mexico due to their spotkick failures, and used his mind games of genius to eliminate Costa Rica in the quarter final. Also current football managers like Ronald Koeman, Danny Blind, Pep Guardiola, Philip Cocu, Frank De Boer and Jose Mourinho all had played or worked under him at some stage during their professional careers. In 2010 the World Cup Semi Finals had Holland, Spain and Germany who had players from Barcelona, Ajax, AK Alzamar and Bayern Munich, again teams Van Gaal managed and had developed some young players like Muller and Xavi who went on to play for their country.
Louis Van Gaal should not be judged on his time at Manchester United. The man isn’t out of his depth at the club, but it could be the challenge of Manchester United came possibly at the twilight of his career where players are different to the likes he managed twenty years ago at Ajax, as his dealings with some big players like Di Maria were not handled well. Despite what will happen at Old Trafford, Louis Van Gaal will have laid good youth foundations at the club and help rebuild the malaise that Ferguson left for Moyes who just could not overturn it.
A must read for football fans who like strong characters, and Louis Van Gaal is one of the heavyweight European characters of football.