Van Gaal stokes Red Devil flames

Van Gaal stokes Red Devil flames
Netherlands' forward Robin van Persie (L) celebrates with Netherlands' coach Louis van Gaal (R) after scoring during a Group B football match between Spain and the Netherlands at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 13, 2014.

THIRD-PLACE PLAY-OFF

BRAZIL 0 HOLLAND 3 (Robin van Persie 3-pen, Daley Blind 16, Georginio Wijnaldum 90+1)

Two images of Louis van Gaal immediately came to my mind as I watched him embrace his men moments after Holland claimed third place at this World Cup in Brazil.

In the weeks leading up to the Dutch team's campaign at the tournament, he cut an angry figure, lashing out at journalists pursuing him over his link with the Manchester United manager's job.

He was curt and dismissive, even rude, refusing to entertain questions on the subject.

And it went on for days.

With such a combustible figure roused with that size of distraction, you wondered how the Oranje were going to successfully negotiate a passage out of the first round of the World Cup when drawn against the likes of reigning champions Spain and a gifted-and-hungry Chile side.

Quite remarkably, a happy cloud of serenity has hung over the Dutch camp all through this tournament, perpetuated by a smiling, easygoing van Gaal.

His infamous scowl vanished here and along with the stunning form of Arjen Robben and that Goal of the Tournament by Robin van Persie, was vital in fostering a team spirit that ensured nearly a month of football for Holland which culminated in a slick and stylish win over an anaemic Brazil in their final game in Brasilia.

United fans will be excited.

Their new manager said after his final game with Holland that he will begin work on Wednesday.

Already, he has sanctioned transfer business worth £56 million ($119m), and Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw will probably not be the last of the new names who will become Red Devils.

The 62-year-old says he cannot wait to get started with the youngsters at Old Trafford.

His faith in young players here and ability to keep the explosive mix of egos of Robben, van Persie and Wesley Sneijder happy suggests he is tailor-made to take the United wheel.

And his dexterity with tactics throughout Holland's journey to the final weekend of the World Cup also suggests a level of sophistication not even witnessed during Alex Ferguson's long and glorious reign.

Former Liverpool and Real Madrid star Steve McManaman said in the press centre at the Maracana Stadium yesterday that van Gaal just seems excited at what lies ahead.

Dutch journalist Stefan Michaels told me the prospect of conquering another frontier will drive him forward.

Van Gaal has managed the biggest clubs in the world, he has enjoyed stunning success and bitter failures, but there seems to be a spring in the step of the Dutchman, as if landing the United job has fuelled his appetite for many more jousts on grand football stages.

SLIM CHANCE

Few felt the Oranje would bear fruit here.

They were imperious in qualifying but with van Persie troubled by injury entering the tournament, Sneijder looking spent and Robben having chalked up the miles in never-ending commitments with Bayern Munich, the detractors felt the Dutch would fade.

But van Gaal steered them to the top of the toughest group in the opening stage. He turned Ron Vlaar and Daley Blind into formidable defenders.

Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi, both 22, showed little fear alongside them as the team powered into the quarter-finals.

He took a gamble with a young and inexperienced goalkeeper in Jasper Cillessen and unleashed Tim Krul for the penalty shootout against Costa Rica.

Into the fray, he threw Georginio Wijnaldum, 23, and Memphis Depay, only 20, and the two youngsters will leave Brazil with their reputations enhanced after the side's run to the last four.

And veterans Nigel de Jong and Dirk Kuyt have wind in their sails after the manager trusted them to do a job for him that saw the Dutch eventually finish third.

Van Gaal entered the tournament seemingly irritated.He did have angry words for the Fifa organisers over match schedules and also barked at referees here, fighting for his players.

But the most compelling picture of van Gaal at this World Cup will be the high fives, big hugs and warm smiles he exchanged with the stars, youngsters and veterans in his team after they blitzed Spain, right through to the moment after they trounced Brazil.

That esprit de corps has been a feature of this Dutch side and it sparked an adventure that so nearly ended on football's mountain top. Now, he is set to go on an adventure with yet another storied club.

And after a dismal campaign last season, made even darker by the ascension of their City neighbours and the rebirth of hated rivals Liverpool, United surely cannot wait for van Gaal to press lift off.

I don't need a holiday. It's great to have such an exciting challenge. To work daily with young people is something that I don't need time off to rest for. I'm looking forward to it. - Louis van Gaal on starting work at Man United on Wednesday


This article was first published on July 14, 2014.
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