Examining What Tottenham Offers Van Gaal If Manchester United Does Not Happen

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2014

A disclaimer to begin with: Louis van Gaal is unlikely to pick Tottenham Hotspur over Manchester United.

The former job is not even available yet, something current Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood rightly stressed to reporters over the weekend. But with speculation over the role rife since a Sky Sports report earlier this month claimed that Sherwood's sacking was inevitable, it is hard not to cast an eye on Spurs' possible future.

Van Gaal's availability after this summer's World Cup made the current Netherlands boss an understandable favourite in the event of change in North London. Even more unsurprisingly, Man United now appear keen to get in first on appointing the renowned coach, having dispensed with David Moyes' services last week.

Despite the Red Devils' difficulties this season, their status as one of the world's biggest clubs means they remain a very attractive prospect for almost any manager.

Unless Van Gaal decides against the high-stakes drama that comes with life at such an institution— which he is well familiar with from his time at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich—it will be hard for him to ignore United's advances in favour of joining Spurs.

But what if the United hierarchy do not choose the 62-year-old to replace Moyes?

The Daily Mail's Matt Lawton noted on Monday that interim boss and playing legend Ryan Giggs' popularity among the Old Trafford faithful should not rule him out as a contender if hearts rule heads in the decision-making process. Current Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti remains a long shot but has not been deemed out of the running yet.

If United go elsewhere, a hypothetical vacancy at White Hart Lane would be among the more tempting opportunities for Van Gaal this summer.

Earlier this month we looked at why Spurs could go all out to appoint the veteran. There are also some significant reasons as to why the Premier League outfit would make a good choice for him if others do not come calling.


Top-Four Proximity

Van Gaal's time as manager of AZ Alkmaar shows he is not averse to the challenge of turning an unsuccessful team into a trophy-winning one.

The turn of the decade had seen them toiling around mid-table, but AZ were becoming more competitive in the Eredivisie at the time of the former player's return in 2005. Even then difficulties were ahead, notably an 11th-place finish the season before they won the title in 2008-09.

Unsuccessful stints as Holland manager and back at Barcelona had undoubtedly damaged Van Gaal's reputation. AZ might not have been on his agenda otherwise, but the historic work he did there—securing only the club's second championship—cannot be ignored.

Subsequent success with Bayern Munich and hopes of leading a talented albeit not flawed Netherlands squad at this summer's World Cup will have reacquainted Van Gaal with working with players of a certain calibre.

The challenge of restoring a success-starved club like AZ might not alone appeal to him now. What Tottenham offers in addition to this is consistent enough proximity to their division's top echelon to suggest they are not far off from being competitive.

The fashion with which they were routinely hammered by Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City this season might suggest a widening gap between them and the division's best.

But Spurs could still match last season's fifth-place finish while—perhaps surprisingly given their tumultuous year—also matching the same campaign's best points tally in the Premier League era (72). It should be remembered it was only a year ago that current title-challengers Liverpool finished seventh.

Premier League seasonTottenham's final position
2013-14Currently 6th, unlikely to finish higher than 5th, though 4th remains a possibility depending on Arsenal's results on Monday night.

As the above table shows, over the last decade Spurs have proven themselves to be one of England's best of the rest.

Their swift return to battling for a top-four place after two tough years between 2007 and 2009 should not be overlooked either. Aston Villa's failure to even get close to matching three consecutive sixth-place finishes from 2007 through 2010 underlines the difficulty of returning to the upper reaches of the league table after dropping off.

Van Gaal no doubt believes in his own ability after the best part of two decades' worth of trophies. Tottenham have work to do catching those above them, but if the Dutchman could not find a way to close the gap, others are unlikely to either.


Key Parts

Debates over the pros and cons of each Tottenham player will continue through the rest of the season and into the summer. Yet despite the flaws individually and within certain systems made apparent this season, Spurs are still a squad on course to finish comfortably above most of the Premier League.

Van Gaal would certainly look to adapt the squad to his liking, probably with two or three additions brought in to help facilitate such changes. But there also already some key parts in the form of senior players (in standing, not necessarily age) on which he could look to build.

Hugo Lloris has unfortunately had to watch on relatively helplessly as too many goals have flown by him in certain games. To the best of his abilities, though, the goalkeeper has again been a pivotal player for Spurs. The recent win over Fulham highlighted his continued importance, as he helped his team to a comfortable win they might otherwise have carelessly blown.

Christian Eriksen's and Jan Vertonghen's Ajax associations would certainly appeal to a man well familiar with the standards of the Amsterdam club.

The former especially provides creativity and flexibility, which would thrive in Van Gaal's attacking style. Both would be good bets to be immediate conduits for Van Gaal's desires for the team.

How other current Spurs players might fare under the Dutchman is a little less obvious. Stylistically, there are several who on paper would appeal to him. Temperamentally, though, how they would get on with as strong-willed a man as Van Gaal would not become apparent until they begin working for him. Nonetheless, there is plenty for him to work with.

Michael Dawson has been a fine captain for the North Londoners. He showed his character by not rocking the boat when Andre Villas-Boas initially dropped him and could be relied upon to give his utmost for the Van Gaal cause.

There are goals in Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado, and genuine quality in players ranging from Kyle Walker to Mousa Dembele to Erik Lamela.

Few might come close to matching the levels of those Van Gaal has worked with in the past, but there is certainly the makings of a competitive Premier League side.


The Kids are (More Than) Alright

Tottenham would do well to produce a group of young talent that fared as well as those under Van Gaal's management at Ajax in the 1990s. The likes of former Spurs Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert and the De Boer brothers were some of the best players of their era and are rightfully regarded for their parts in the last great Ajax side.

Were he to become Spurs managers, though, Van Gaal would find a group of young talent which, definitely in terms of numbers, is the best the club has produced in at least two decades.

Led this season by the name-making form of young English players Andros Townsend and Harry Kane, as well a bright teenage overseas recruit Nabil Bentaleb, pieces are coming to the fore which might become part of the Tottenham team for years to come.

Work still needs to be done in honing the skills and top-flight aptitude of these players. Townsend enjoyed a wonderful 2013 but is now having to adapt to opponents more familiar with his game. Kane is finishing this season strongly but—save for an impressive cameo against Benfica—has not been tested against the strongest teams

The raw talent is there, however. Others currently out on loan include Tom Carroll, Shaquile Coulthirst, Ryan Fredericks and Alex Pritchard, each of whom have also impressed in recent times.

Van Gaal knows the merits of harnessing young players and would surely relish the chance to mold them to his tactics. As he notes in the following video interview with FIFA.com, he has no qualms about giving them their chances either:


Playing the Tottenham Way

Tottenham's preference, or perhaps aspiration, to play an attacking style easy on the eye has been ingrained in the club for much of its history. It gained prominence with Arthur Rowe's "Push and Run" side of the early 1950s and drew even greater acclaim as Bill Nicholson utilised it to even greater success in the 1960s and early '70s.

Van Gaal's own adherence to such ideology would see his brand of football click well with a fanbase who largely share this way of thinking, not to mention a majority of players similarly versed.

"It is very nice to take part in it because it is an attacking...technical...and tactical philosophy so you can show your qualities more than ever," he told the above FIFA.com interview. "And I think that is the point."

The demands of the Spurs hierarchy to push firmly into the Premier League's top-four would not be without its pressures, ones that could possibly grind alongside instincts for attacking football if results were to stutter at any point.

It would appear, though, that the work being done with the club's young players right now would fit nicely with Van Gaal's methods.

Former England defender Ugo Ehiogu is on the Tottenham Academy staff, and in a recent interview with Sky Sports' Soccer AM he gave an insight into the way of thinking that informs their efforts (a lot of which, it should be noted, stems from Sherwood's work in his previous role as technical coordinator):

There is a style that we want to play, so we can win 3-0 but if the players have not played in the right way, then we are not going to be that happy. There is intent to play the right way. They have put a process in place—a five-year plan that has not changed with the two or three managers that have been in since. There has been some stability there.

Putting this into practice isn't easy, of course. Blending homegrown talent with expensive recruits can take time.

At his age, Van Gaal is unlikely to be settling down to build a Sir Alex Ferguson-style dynasty to last decades. But from top to bottom on the football side of things, the foundations are in place at Tottenham for him to thrive sooner rather than later.

Many of the reasons featured as to why Van Gaal would enjoy life at Spurs could similarly be applied to Manchester United. If that arrangement does not work out and the White Hart Lane hot seat becomes available, he might still be looking at the latest chapter in his engrossing, always eventful career story.


    Lallana and Can Named in Liverpool's Squad for the Final

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Lallana and Can Named in Liverpool's Squad for the Final

    Liverpool FC
    via Liverpool FC

    Salah Not Interested in Ronaldo Comparisons

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Salah Not Interested in Ronaldo Comparisons

    Salma Abdallah
    via KingFut

    James Rodriguez Launches a Cryptocurrency

    World Football logo
    World Football

    James Rodriguez Launches a Cryptocurrency

    via ESPNFC.com

    Busquets Agrees Barca Extension 'In Principle'

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Busquets Agrees Barca Extension 'In Principle'

    Calciomercato.com | Tutte le news sul calcio in tempo reale
    via Calciomercato.com | Tutte le news sul calcio in tempo reale