Netherlands Coach Louis Van Gaal's 'Philosophy' Explained
If there’s one thing Louis van Gaal seems to like more than watching the game, it’s thinking and talking about the game. That’s why the Netherlands coach talks about his "philosophy" so often—for example, in this fantastic interview with FIFA TV.
Looking at his career so far, it becomes obvious Van Gaal has always stayed true to his words. At Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and with the Dutch national team, he has always worked according to the same principles.
Van Gaal has certain principles in mind, and he sticks to them. It’s his "philosophy"—but what, exactly, does this "philosophy" entail?
The System Comes Always First
Some managers look at the squad that’s available to them and create a tactical system around it.
Not Louis van Gaal. The Holland boss always employs the same system (an attacking 4-3-3 with clearly defined roles for each position) and that’s what his teams will play. No matter what.
The word "reactive" doesn’t exist in Van Gaal’s mind. Never would the Dutchman change his tactics in order to nullify the opponent. In Van Gaal’s opinion, it’s up to the opposition to react to his team and his tactics.
This steadfastness has brought Van Gaal a lot—just look at the trophies in his trophy cabinet.
In some cases, it has also led to conflict. Look at Van Gaal’s second spell at Barcelona, for example, when the Dutch boss fell out with Rivaldo in dramatic fashion.
'Profiles' for Every Position
Some managers would buy a prolific striker simply because he scores lots of goals. They might also buy a defender because he’s good at what he’s supposed to do.
Louis van Gaal follows his own rules. As part of his philosophy, he has developed certain "profiles" for each and every position in his system.
These profiles tell him exactly what he wants a player in a certain position to do. Defenders, for example, need to be good passers to set up attacks. Strikers need to be able to hold up the ball and pass to attacking midfielders and wingers—as well as score goals.
Only with his "profiles" in mind would Van Gaal make moves on the transfer market. The Dutchman knows what sort of player he’s looking for. All he needs to do is go out and find him.
According to Van Gaal, all of this wouldn’t be worth anything if the football on the pitch wasn’t pleasing to the eye.
Time and time again, the Dutch manager has reiterated that he wants his teams to play attractive, attacking football.
Van Gaal sees it as his moral duty to entertain the crowd. That’s why his teams always go for possession, while they simultaneously attempt to keep the goals coming.
The one and only formation Louis van Gaal believes in is 4-3-3. Most of the time, that means one defensive midfielder, two hardworking central midfielders—one of them allowed to be more creative—and one striker, assisted by two wingers or inside forwards.
He might tweak the midfield a little bit, and he might swap a winger who likes to go wide for a player like Arjen Robben, who likes to cut inside from the right to shoot at the target with his left foot. However, never would Van Gaal deviate from this 4-3-3 template.
The Youngsters Are the Future
Louis van Gaal doesn’t always get along with superstars. That’s why he has had dramatic falling-outs with the likes of Rivaldo and Franck Ribery.
Perhaps partly because of this, Van Gaal likes to put a lot of faith in young players and academy graduates. Youngsters, Van Gaal believes, are eager to learn. Contrary to star players, they’ll gladly listen to your lessons on "profiles" and "responsibility."
Van Gaal achieved some extraordinary things with youngsters. When he won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995, he did so with a squad comprised largely of Ajax academy prospects—think Frank de Boer, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert.