How the World Cup Has Made Louis Van Gaal a Better Manager
With a trophy cabinet filled with prizes won at prestigious clubs like Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, it was always obvious that Louis van Gaal was a competent manager.
Therefore, the Dutchman's appointment as new Manchester United manager was generally greeted with positive judgments. Here was a man with bags of experience and a proven record of success.
Back then, it was expected that the Netherlands, Van Gaal's current employer, would not be at the World Cup for very long. They were in a group with Chile and reigning world champions Spain. What's more, their squad was young and inexperienced.
But immediately in the first group game, a stunning 5-1 victory against Spain, the Dutch defied expectations. Now in the quarter-final, their campaign has been a big success so far.
The Netherlands will face Costa Rica on Saturday. If they manage to win that match, who knows what will happen next?
But the Netherlands' success is not the only thing. The World Cup has also made Louis van Gaal into a better manager. And that is something for fans of Manchester United to be excited about.
Here, we take a look at how the Dutch boss has improved.
As someone raised within the Dutch school of football, Van Gaal has always been a big proponent of the 4-3-3 formation. It is the formation he used when he won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995.
In the past, Van Gaal would often insist on using it. With 4-3-3 as a template, he would then look for the right players to fit into this system.
Van Gaal did the same at the Dutch national team. Immediately after his appointment in 2012, 4-3-3 became the norm.
But when Kevin Strootman suffered an injury that ruled him out of the World Cup in March, Van Gaal suddenly decided to change things around.
Strootman had been a key player for Van Gaal, and without the Roma midfielder, he didn't see the tactics he had devised working in Brazil.
Van Gaal came up with the 5-3-2 the Dutch have been using in Brazil. As became apparent in the matches against Spain and Chile, this system really works for the Netherlands.
The 4-3-3 is no longer the only possible option for Van Gaal. Where he was dogmatic in the past, he is now much more flexible.
Man Management Skills
Van Gaal used to be infamous for getting into rows with big-name players. At Barcelona, for example, he clashed with Rivaldo, and at Bayern Munich, he had a dispute with Franck Ribery.
But with the Dutch squad, Van Gaal seems very friendly with his star players. This became visible to everyone when Robin van Persie ran up to the dugout to high-five his boss after his stunning first goal against Spain.
The relationship Van Gaal has with Van Persie is so solid that it's no problem for him to take the striker off at a crucial point in the game, as he did during the match against Mexico.
Van Persie probably knows that Van Gaal trusts him, and that under normal circumstances he will always be in the team. Under Van Gaal, Van Persie is prepared to step away for the good of the team.
Meanwhile, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who replaced Van Persie, has so far been happy to play a role in the background and function as a super sub.
What's more, Van Gaal is doing a good job motivating his players to reach new heights. Arjen Robben's form is a good example of this. So is the solid defensive work Ron Vlaar is doing.
Van Gaal has learned from his mistakes. He is not someone to get into fights with his star players anymore. Now, he knows how to make sure his players are happy and motivated.
Will to Win
During the Netherlands' round of 16 match, against Mexico, Van Gaal's men were 1-0 behind for much of the second half. But right until the very end, Oranje stayed motivated.
Eventually, this resulted in two goals in the dying seconds of the game. Thanks to the players' tireless efforts, the Netherlands dragged their victory from the gates of hell.
It was almost reminiscent of what would sometimes happen with Manchester United, when Sir Alex Ferguson was still the manager there. How often have we seen Ferguson's team score one or two important goals in the last minutes of a match?
These last-minute efforts were partially inspired by luck, but also by desire. Never willing to accept a drop in motivation, Ferguson's players would always fight until the end.
Van Gaal expects the same from his squad. By motivating them to the core, he has instilled an insatiable hunger inside them.
Under David Moyes, it often looked like Manchester United was missing this will to win. With Van Gaal, it may just come back.