Having dragged Manchester United kicking and screaming back to the Premier League’s top-four promised land with a pulsating, if indelicate brand of passing football, Louis van Gaal has bought himself plenty of goodwill and patience at Old Trafford.
That being said, whenever the Iron Tulip wanders away from his native Netherlands, trouble, strife and an early exit tend to follow.
Two spells at Barcelona ended in acrimony, the first (1997-2000) seemingly spoiled by a spat with Rivaldo, despite Van Gaal delivering two La Liga titles, while the second (2002-03) won’t be remembered as his finest hour, with the Catalan giants struggling for La Liga survival prior to his departure.
At Bayern Munich (2009-11), fallouts with striker Luca Toni, who was sold to Roma, and then-technical director Uli Hoeness laid the groundwork for Van Gaal’s exit less than 12 months after securing the Bundesliga/DFB Pokal double and finishing Champions League runners-up.
Manchester City’s CEO Ferran Soriano, who was vice-president of Barcelona between 2003-08, offered an interesting, if somewhat violent perspective of the former PE teacher prior to Van Gaal’s move to the north west:
“If you treat your people badly, they remember. One day you make an error and they kill you. I’ve seen this in many clubs.
“Louis van Gaal has been a very good coach in many clubs but his style is very difficult. The same thing happened to him in Barcelona as in Bayern Munich.
“He is very tough, people don’t like him, but he wins. And one day you don’t win — and when you don’t win, everybody that is angry with you will come back to you and try to kill you.”
Louis-ball worked during his early years in management with Ajax, where he brought through superstars such as Dennis Bergkamp and Clarence Seedorf en route to winning the 1994/95 Champions League.
Van Gaal also led AZ to only their second Eredivisie title ever in 2008/09, and his efforts during a second stint as Oranje coach at last summer’s World Cup, where he steered his country to third, were a shock to many, but the 63-year-old’s frank methods clearly don’t translate as well elsewhere.
With that in mind, United fans should be a tad concerned at their gaffer’s recent comments in relation to Victor Valdes (“He doesn’t follow my philosophy, there is no place for someone like that.”), Angel Di Maria’s mooted move to PSG (“No idea, we shall see.”) and Robin van Persie’s departure to Fenerbahce (“He knew already what was coming from the day we played golf.”).
Van Gaal must be well aware how quickly goodwill can dissipate into acrimony, but can he help himself?
Keeping famously hot-headed captain Wayne Rooney on side will be key, although United could probably pack Old Trafford with paying customers for that fight.