Van Gaal's Success at the World Cup Bodes Well for Manchester United

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

Netherlands' Arjen Robben is greeted by head coach Louis van Gaal after the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between the Netherlands and Mexico at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, Sunday, June 29, 2014. The Netherlands won the match 2-1. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

Expectations for this Dutch side were not particularly high before the World Cup, and with good reason.

The squad featured only two players of real class, and one of them, Robin van Persie, had spent much of the second half of the season out with injury. The Netherlands were also drawn in one of the toughest groups at the tournament, and thus they weren't even a guarantee to make it to the second round.

However, they're now in the quarter-finals after squeezing past Mexico in the Fortaleza heat, which is obviously terrific news for the Netherlands but also for Manchester United.

Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

For a start, United fans will have both enjoyed and seen something comfortingly familiar in a Louis van Gaal side that trailed for long spells but scored two late goals to claim a victory. The Netherlands were positively Ferguson-esque against Mexico, and for United fans who had to deal with such a depressing season, that would have been a great comfort.

More than just the late, late show, however, the Dutch performance in Brazil should give great heart to United fans about how Van Gaal is going to handle the season ahead.

United's poor campaign was of course partly down to a manager in David Moyes who was promoted above his abilities, but it was also because he had a squad lacking in the requisite quality to challenge at the top of the Premier League.

While the summer is obviously a long way from being over, the United squad as it now stands has improved in the short-term but not by a huge amount. This will be addressed before the start of the season, but United will still be a work in progress.

Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

The encouragement for United from this World Cup will come from Van Gaal getting the very best from a fairly limited Netherlands squad. He has managed this through tight organisation, smart substitutions and perhaps crucially creating the team to get the best from its star players.

Arjen Robben has been superb in a largely free role behind Van Persie, being at the centre of most good and dangerous things the Dutch have done in Brazil. How Van Gaal will apply this to a United squad seemingly with several players who are most comfortable in the same position is currently unclear, but you can be sure he has a plan.

Perhaps even more importantly, Van Gaal seems to have the handy habit of being quite lucky.

Take the Mexico game as an example: With time running out and a goal down, Van Gaal removed Van Persie, by some distance his most dangerous striker, and replaced him with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, whose goal tallies have been dipping in the past couple of seasons and who hadn't played a minute of the World Cup. He left on Wesley Sneijder, who had looked ineffective not just in that game but during the whole tournament.

The result was an equaliser scored by Sneijder and set up by Huntelaar, then a winning penalty converted by the striker. Louis knows, it seems.

Van Gaal used the "cooling break," designed to help the players take on water, to impart his tactical wisdom. He said, as quoted by Sky Sports:

I first changed to a 4-3-3 and then we created a lot of opportunities with a shot on the post and a fantastic save.

Then I moved to plan B and yes, I did that in the cooling break. That is a clever way of benefiting from these breaks.

Did you see what I did?

Van Gaal will start work at Old Trafford more or less as soon as the Netherlands' World Cup campaign is over. While United would obviously prefer him to start as soon as possible, the further Van Gaal takes the Dutch into the tournament, the better United will feel about next season.