Wednesday, July 09, 2014

2014 World Cup: Van Gaal thrives as Oranje charge

Germany's Joachim Löw characterised last night's semi final as a "battle of the continents." Europe 7. South America 1.

Tonight it's time for round two. Argentina v the Netherlands. It will take a stunning performance from one of them to dislodge Germany as tournament favourites on betfair.com.

Argentina will, once again, rely on the genius of Messi. The Dutch will look to Arjen Robben and hope Robin van Persie's guts have cleared up.

And they'll also look to the touchline, seeking inspiration from Louis van Gaal. It's safe to assume that he'd have it no other way.

After the understated (maybe overwhelmed) approach of David Moyes, his successor at Manchester United is unlikely to be blown off course by a lack of confidence.

The stories of Van Gaal's often unconventional methods abound, the managerial heavyweight literally prepared to show his players that he's got the balls for the job.

Yet when he was announced as Manchester United manager a feeling persisted that this might be a fading superstar, still capable of talking the talk but with the true glory days left behind, now just statistics in the record books.

Intentionally or not, Van Gaal has spent the last few weeks in Brazil roaring against that theory.

There was the demolition that dethroned Spain in just the third game of the tournament. There was the water break tactical switch against Mexico that left him telling reporters that "this manager wanted to win."

And then on Saturday night the brinkmanship of replacing his goalkeeper just before the end of extra time.

The drama and sense of timing meant it must have appeared to some Costa Ricans that Tim Krul wasn't just a fine goalkeeper but also a penalty saving Superman who could read their thoughts.

A gamble but a calculated one. Krul confident that his manager needed him and believed in him. The Costa Ricans left wondering what the hell was going on. The manager got his calculations right. When a gamble pays off people forget what the original risk was.

Adaptable. Ready to spring a surprise or two. And absolutely comfortable in the cult of the manager. Throughout the tournament - perhaps to shield his players, perhaps through narcissism - he has in fact tossed the press line after line to help write the cult of Louis van Gaal.

Whatever happens tonight, the Dutch have made the final weekend of the World Cup. There were concerns that such protracted engagement in Brazil might work against Van Gaal making the quick impact at Old Trafford that Manchester United to make up the ground lost during the non-season they endured under Moyes.

Yet such has been his appetite for the fray, it seems that United will now welcome a manager rejoicing in his own ability and apparently ready to find a way past any obstacles in his way.

Louis van Gaal might not win the World Cup. But few managers will have ever found a month of tournament competition such a rejuvenating experience.