10 Things You Didn't Know About Van Gaal's Netherlands
Grouped with Spain, Chile and Australia, the Netherlands are set to face some tough opposition during the World Cup in Brazil.
Playing reigning world champions Spain in their first match on June 13, the Dutch will have to come out fighting from day one.
A lot has been said about the Netherlands' chances already. But some things you might not have considered. With the tournament drawing near, we take a look at 10 less well-known aspects of Louis van Gaal's Netherlands team.
Van Gaal Is Planning for the Future
Even though Louis van Gaal has definitively ruled out a contract extension after the World Cup—he seems poised to become the next Manchester United manager instead—it's clear that The Dutch boss is already planning for the future of the national team.
Throughout the qualifying campaign, Van Gaal has debuted many different players. From Davy Klaassen to Memphis Depay, various highly rated youngsters got a chance to experience what it's like to play at the international stage.
Van Gaal is well known for his faith in young players. Because youngsters are usually more willing to adapt to his "philosophy," he likes to integrate them into his teams whenever he can.
It wouldn't be a surprise if Van Gaal took a handful of very young, inexperienced players along to the World Cup in Brazil. This way, he is planning for the future, even though his own future will definitively be somewhere else.
There Are Plenty of Talented Youngsters
Usually, Dutch squads contain a few highly rated youngsters.
During the World Cup in 2006, for example, the Dutch had Wesley Sneijder, who was still playing for Ajax at the time. In 2010, the Dutch had Gregory van der Wiel, who would later go on to play for Paris Saint-Germain.
This time around, though, the Netherlands' youngsters don't seem quite as well known as players such as Wesley Sneijder. But that doesn't mean they aren't there.
Daley Blind, who won the "Golden Boot" award for best player of the Eredivisie this season, is an excellent young left-back, whose versatility allows him to play as a defensive midfielder as well.
Up front, there's PSV's Memphis Depay, who broke through this season to become one of the most feared strikers in the Eredivisie.
Then there's Feyenoord's midfielder Jordy Clasie, who has a good chance of replacing the injured Kevin Strootman in Van Gaal's first XI.
Although it remains to be seen how these youngsters will cope during the World Cup, it's fair to say that there is definitely some talent in the Dutch squad.
A Golden Generation's Goodbye
During EURO 2008, a generation of Dutch players stood up and showed the world just how good they were.
Beating Italy 3-0 and France 4-1 in the group stage, players such as Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie seemed like some of the best young footballers of the world.
In 2010, this group of players even managed to reach the final of the World Cup in South Africa. Again, players such as Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder seemed brilliant.
During EURO 2012, however, the Dutch failed miserably, and with Van Persie and Robben now both 30 years of age, the World Cup in Brazil will most likely be this generation's last chance to win an international trophy.
The question is: Will this prospect spur Van Persie and his companions on to reach new heights, or has the time come for yet a new generation of Dutch players to step up?
Strootman Is Not Irreplaceable
Losing Kevin Strootman to injury was a huge blow for the Netherlands, and replacing the AS Roma midfielder will not be easy, especially considering the apparent shortage of players similar to Strootman.
True, Van Gaal could simply replace Strootman with a highly rated youngster like Jordy Clasie, but unlike Strootman, Clasie has little big-league experience. How can Van Gaal expect the young Feyenoord midfielder to immediately step up? The Eredivisie is simply not the same as the international stage.
Perhaps it would be wiser to reinstate Wesley Sneijder as playmaker. Strootman's replacement, then, would have to be a more defensive-minded midfielder such as Daley Blind.
This way, Oranje would get an injection of creativity up front, and simultaneously, a youngster like Blind would get the chance to experience world football's biggest stage.
Whatever Van Gaal decides to do, it's clear Van Gaal has plenty of options.
More Than 1 Good Keeper
It's a well-known fact Louis van Gaal likes Ajax goalkeepers. They know how to play football, they're tactically intelligent and they use both feet—at least that's the reasoning behind it.
For this reason, Van Gaal is seemingly opting for Ajax's Jasper Cillessen as first-team goalkeeper. This could mean that the more experienced Premier League goalkeepers Michel Vorm and Tim Krul would be reserve goalkeepers while in Brazil.
There's even a chance Van Gaal will leave one of them out of the squad altogether. This has happened to Maarten Stekelenburg, veteran of the World Cup in 2010, during the Netherlands' qualifiers campaign.
Sneijder Could Still Play a Huge Role
While it's not clear yet who Louis van Gaal will pick to replace the injured Kevin Strootman, it's hard to see a position for Wesley Sneijder in the Netherlands' starting XI.
Judging by the harsh remarks he made on multiple occasions, Van Gaal simply doesn't seem to believe in Sneijder much. There's even a chance the Dutch boss will decide to leave Sneijder out of the squad altogether.
Knowing Van Gaal, however, one thing should be considered: His remarks could have been part of a ploy to motivate Sneijder.
There's a chance Van Gaal saw the midfielder's form declining following his move to Galatasary in 2013, and in response, maybe Van Gaal wanted to get Sneijder ready for the World Cup by continuously calling him out. The midfield maestro seems like the type of player susceptible to such an approach.
In this scenario, Sneijder could come off the bench motivated to the core, and he could still play a huge role in the Netherlands' World Cup campaign.
Van Gaal's Supersubs
Even if Wesley Sneijder doesn't make it into Van Gaal's first XI in time for the tournament, he could still, of course, play a big role coming off the bench.
And Sneijder wouldn't be the only supersub. With someone like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar able to replace Robin van Persie at any time, the Dutch might even have a bit of a luxury problem.
There Isn't Much Pressure
After the Netherlands' disastrous EURO 2012 run, few people are expecting Oranje to storm through the group stage and bring the cup home. Considering the lack of experience—especially at the back—it just isn't very realistic, people seem to realise.
In a way, such lack of faith is a good thing. In the past, many countries have crumbled under the pressure exerted on them from home. Think, for example, of England during the World Cup in 2006, or perhaps Brazil in 2010. The Netherlands will go into the tournament much more relaxed.
With most of the pressure removed, however, you never know what might happen...
Van Gaal Has Learned from the Past
Throughout the world, Louis van Gaal is known for his inflexibility and authoritarian posture as a manager.
This attitude has brought the teams he has managed a lot of good. With a good dose of discipline and a rigid system transfixed in their minds, Van Gaal managed to win the Champions League with a squad of Ajax youngsters in 1995. At Barcelona, Van Gaal arguably laid the foundations for the "Tiki-Taka" football that would later be perfected by Pep Guardiola.
At other times, however, Van Gaal's attitude has gotten him into trouble. During his second spell at Barcelona, for example, Van Gaal famously fell out with Rivaldo. At Bayern Munich, he became enemies with Franck Ribery.
Now in his second stint with the Dutch team, Van Gaal seems to have learned from the past. Besides his troubled relation with Wesley Sneijder—who van Gaal might not deem good enough—the Dutch boss seems to know exactly how to treat his star players.
Arjen Robben, for example, seems perfectly happy, and so does Robin van Persie, who has been spotted at football grounds in the Netherlands watching games with his national-squad manager.
The Qualifiers Went Well
Besides a slightly bizarre away draw against Estonia in September 2013, the Netherlands won all of their matches in the qualifiers. They even managed to beat Hungary 8-1 in the Amsterdam Arena.
While it should be noted that they weren't grouped with the world's strongest nations, the Netherlands' good record during the qualifiers could bode well for the actual World Cup. At the very least, it must have ingrained some confidence on the relatively young and newly formed squad.