Manchester United Jettisons Louis van Gaal, ‘the Best Coach in the World’

It was not even two years ago that Louis van Gaal was being hailed as a genius. In the crucible of a World Cup quarterfinal, van Gaal, then coaching the Netherlands, substituted his starting goalkeeper in the final minutes of extra time and then — with a grin on his face — watched the backup make two critical saves in the subsequent penalty-kick shootout as his team advanced to a semifinal against Argentina.


Never shy — van Gaal once declared, “Congratulations on signing the best coach in the world” after he was hired by the Dutch club Ajax — he reveled in the global acclaim he received in Brazil, showing his playful side (and his ego) in a series of entertaining interviews. It was expected that van Gaal’s magic that summer would follow him to his next job, as coach ofManchester United.

It did not. Van Gaal was fired on Monday, two days after winning his only trophy with the club and one year short of completing the three-year deal he signed before the 2014 World Cup. Van Gaal, who was the first Manchester United coach who was not British or Irish, will reportedly be replaced by another confident manager from the continent: José Mourinho, the Portuguese tactician who once nicknamed himself the Special One.Photo
Manchester United Jettisons Louis van Gaal, ‘the Best Coach in the World’
Van Gaal, of course, was supposed to be special, too. He had won titles with Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in previous stops, and in that summer of 2014, he was seen as the stabilizer, the veteran presence who would bring an end to the tumult that followed Alex Ferguson’s departure from United in 2013. David Moyes, who had replaced Ferguson but was dumped even before the end of his first season as coach, was a blip. Van Gaal was held up as the rock.

But soccer, like all sports, is a funny thing. Permanence is unattainable and so it was for van Gaal, whose early bravado about how it would take just three months for United’s players to adapt to his (presumably advanced) tactics looks misguided, if not silly, on the far side of his tenure. The results never materialized, and van Gaal could not even fall back on the coach’s trope that his team was unlucky. United scored only 49 goals during this Premier League season, or one more than Sunderland, which finished fourth from last and was nearly relegated.

Worse still, van Gaal’s United was unattractive and unimaginative. For a club as rich as this one — in both its trophy history and its balance sheet — the product was unacceptable.Photo
Van Gaal, right, was the coach of the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup, and he reveled in the global acclaim he received there. CreditIan Walton/Getty Images
If van Gaal was surprised by the prospect of his ouster, he might have been the only one; speculation about Mourinho’s replacing him had been reported for months and heated up considerably in the hours before Saturday’s F.A. Cup final win over Crystal Palace. That put van Gaal in the unenviable position of arriving at his own postmatch news conference,trophy in tow, only to be confronted with questions about his successor.

United has not handled this entire process especially well, but few clubs do. Now, the club is doing its damage control. On Monday, two newspapers in England published nearly identical accounts of how van Gaal failed at United, describing in similar detail his rigidity and intensity (perhaps even bordering on mania) over analysis, including remarkable specifics about how van Gaal insisted on using email tracking apps so he could be sure his players opened his postmatch emails detailing the areas of their play that he felt needed improvement.

According to other reports, the locker room under van Gaal was toxic. His tactics were limiting. His players were so frustrated as to border on mutiny. And his determination to be in control reached so far as to demand that players never hit a shot in the penalty area without taking another touch to settle the ball first. In short, he was being presented on his way out — by those at the club who once had acclaimed him as a wizard — as little more than a micromanaging bully.

Van Gaal after Saturday’s win over Crystal Palace in the F.A. Cup final. Speculation that José Mourinho would replace him heated up considerably in the hours before the game. CreditAndy Rain/European Pressphoto Agency
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If nothing else, van Gaal’s humbled exitmight — might — serve as a check for Mourinho if he gets the job. It is possible that his own experience being run out of Chelsea this season would humble him, but with Mourinho it is impossible to know. Will he be a bit softer, a bit more measured? With Pep Guardiola arriving across town to take charge of Manchester City next season, it is difficult to imagine anything less than the brash, brutal Mourinho of years past.

Will it work? United’s fans, for the second time in three years, are hoping a new coaching star will be the one for them, even if Mourinho’s tactics have not always been the most visually appealing. Still, he is (generally and regularly) a winner, and the post-Ferguson era at Manchester United has not featured much of that. From that standpoint, Mourinho may be a good choice.

But there are no guarantees. Twenty-two months ago, van Gaal was praised as a visionary, a savant. There were encomiums in the global press and memes featuring van Gaal’s face on Rio de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue.

On Monday the Twitter account for Ryanair, the budget airline, used van Gaal’s face on a picture advertising $15 flights. “Time for a quick exit.”
Source: www.nytimes.com

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