Van Gaal defies the hankies

It was an act canada goose coat 1000 calorie diets either of total madness, of extraordinary moral courage or of monumental insensitivity. Or a combination of all of the above. Suffice it to say that there are not a lot of people who have what it takes to have done what Louis van Gaal did before 40,000 people at the Camp Nou stadium on the night of 22 July this year.

The 40,000, gathered for the ritual presentation of the first-team squad for the 2002-03 season, were the same Barcelona supporters who had mercilessly hounded Van Gaal out of town two years earlier. The first white handkerchiefs had come out within three months of the Dutchman taking over from Bobby Robson as coach in 1997. But, as Van Gaal’s reign drew to its close, three highly successful seasons later, such canada goose coat 1000 calorie was the unanimity of fluttering white on the stands of the giant stadium (the more democratic Spanish equivalent of the Roman emperor’s thumbs down), so viciously heartfelt were the accompanying cries of ‘Van Gaal Out!’ that it seemed we were witnessing not the demise of a football coach but the end of a long and savage tyranny.

But here he was again on that balmy July night, barely a week after controversially selling Barça’s best player, Rivaldo, to Milan. Earlier that very same day the club president, Joan Gaspart, had said of Van Gaal: ‘He is not simpatico. Not many people like him.’

Gaspart was only too well aware, besides, that people had been stunned, in many cases appalled, at his decision to reinstate the Dutchman. As Sergi Pamies, a celebrated Catalan writer, said: ‘In April there was a joke doing the rounds, «Van Gaal is coming back.» And we all laughed our heads off.’ But now he really was back, standing there under the Camp Nou floodlights, microphone in hand. And nobody was laughing. So what happened?

The fans applauded. Not wild with excitement, but politely, loudly enough. OK, last time around he might only have won the Spanish league twice in three attempts; he might have descended, in the season at the end of which they drove him out, to the ignominy of ending up second in the Liga and making it only so far as the semi-finals of the Champions League.

But you had to hand it to him. The man had cojones. Balls. He might be a bit bonkers, he might be utterly charmless, he might be dumb (the Barcelona fans and press were also convinced that Robson knew nothing about football, a theory they can put to the test when his Newcastle team visit the Camp Nou in the second stage of this season’s Champions League). But there was no denying that the action you were witnessing was heroic.

He gave a short speech, betraying his nervousness by the strangling grip he exerted on the microphone, but the words, in correct Spanish, were well chosen. ‘We can guarantee nothing, but what we can offer is hard work, commitment and lots of enthusiasm. I am certain that with your support victories will come our way. Long live Barça and long live Catalunya!’

No, the words were not the problem. The tone was. Brusque, sharp, like a guard dog barking. One could not help feeling, as an American columnist once wrote of a speech by the right-wing presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, that the address must have sounded better in the original German. And that’s Van Gaal’s problem. Bold as he may be, he is not likeable. He is not simpatico.

He is, in public at least, entirely charmless. And this matters to the Barça fans. Style counts. They are a complicated lot, much of it to do with the association between the football team and the eternally prickly, paranoid Catalan nation. The club coach is not just a sporting figure but a political representative. And a warrior, leading the bright blue canada goose jacket troops twice yearly into battle against the ancient Castilian enemy, otherwise known as Real Madrid. It is a way of thinking that clouds the faculties and enables otherwise perfectly intelligent Barça supporters to say, in all seriousness: ‘What has Van Gaal ever done for us? Nothing!’

Evidence that the marriage between Van Gaal and Barcelona was not made in heaven has been provided once more this season. Relations with the press remain as poor as ever. It is uncanny how every time Barcelona play badly match reports focus responsibility almost entirely on Van Gaal, while every time Real Madrid play badly it is the players who are blamed. And last week a typical little drama played itself out in the Barcelona press-conference room. Local journalists hammered away at Van Gaal on the insignificant matter of a spat he had had with his third-choice goalkeeper, until Van Gaal eventually buy canada goose jacket australia lost his rag. And this just hours before can you wash canada goose jacket Barcelona would become the only team amazon canada goose jacket out of 32 to have won all six games in the first phase of this season’s Champions League.

There is nothing to be done. The perception the public has of Van Gaal is set in stone. Spain’s version of Spitting Image, a nightly 15-minute programme called Guiñoles, continues to portray him as a brick with a mop of hair on it. He is one of the most famous personalities in Spain; undoubtedly among football coaches he is the one most readily identifiable among the wider public. But he is celebrity as anti-hero. People at large, even those who care not for best price canada goose parka football, see him as a square-headed Teuton — the polar opposite of the image the Spanish have of themselves as charming, gracious, imaginative.

Unfortunately for him his famously thorough attention to detail as a coach works against him, reinforcing the caricature. So much so that, never mind the charisma deficit, the idea has taken hold that he is a dull tactician whose teams play boring, metronomic football. Johan Cruyff has done his best to encourage the prejudice. Since Van Gaal first took over at Barça five years ago, Cruyff, who lives in Barcelona, has chipped away at his Dutch successor, rarely confronting him head-on, but venturing sly comment after sly comment. And people listen to Cruyff, who remains an idol at Barça — not just because he was an outstanding player and a successful coach but because he knew how to play the political part expected of him.

David Endt, a retired Dutch professional who was part of Van Gaal’s coaching staff when his Ajax team won the European Cup in 1995, notes that Van Gaal is too honest and straightforward ever to make it as a politician. best canada goose coat for women ‘Cruyff, by contrast, is a natural,’ says Endt. ‘Apart from his fantastic footballing qualities, he triumphed at Barcelona because he knew how to look, what to do, what to say. Cruyff names his son Jordi — the classic Catalan name. If Louis were to have a son in Barcelona he would call him Jan. He couldn’t call him Jordi. He would consider it false, against his nature.’

False or not, it is is the kind of gesture that would go down well in Catalonia. So well that when Cruyff differs with Van Gaal on a football matter it is generally assumed that Cruyff is right and Van Gaal is wrong. A case in point was provided last week, for example, when Cruyff told the Argentine sports magazine Olé: ‘Van Gaal is a student of football, but I see the game completely differently from him. He represents a type of coach for whom the system is everything.’ Which is probably true, but, although Cruyff and other detractors of Van Gaal seek to elevate this criticism to the status of a moral value, it is not that.

There are systems and systems, after all. Van Gaal is no long-ball, counterattacking, catenaccio king. He likes wingers, he plays — typically — with three at the back, and possession is God.

What he doesn’t like is stars. Or stars, at any rate, in the conventional sense of the word. For Cruyff homesite, for example, Romario, who played under him at Barça, was a megastar. As he was for most people.

‘For me,’ Van Gaal said in a recent interview, ‘a star is a player who makes the team play better. I don’t like the kind of «star» who plays the game for his own benefit, because football is a team game. I like stars, but not stars like Rivaldo, or Ronaldo. For me Keane of Manchester United is a star; Beckham is a star; Zidane is a star — because they play for their teams.’

He does not like players who play ‘intuitively’, he says, ‘because in the end they cannot collaborate with one another, because each has his own idea of how to play the game.’ In Van Gaal’s philosophy ‘a football team must have a clear and shared direction, and each player must have his own clearly defined task in the team’.

It is a way of understanding the game conceived, in all likelihood, while he was buying canada goose jacket online deep in thought in the family kitchen. Brought up in a family of 11 (he was the youngest of nine children) with a sports-mad father in an Amsterdam home just down the road from the Ajax stadium, it was inevitable that football was going to consume a large part of his youthful thoughts. Football, a game he played very well right up to professional level, was almost certainly in his mind as the 10-year-old Louis set about his daily duties in the kitchen.

Under the strict family rules, each member of the Van Gaal XI was assigned a specific task. Whether this was where he developed his football philosophy or not, what is true is that from his early teens he would appoint himself not just captain but coach of the teams he played in. Naturally enough he became a schoolteacher, a PE instructor, as well as a footballer. Then, when he played for the Dutch first-division team Sparta Rotterdam, he became an active militant in the football players’ union, where he became known as the scourge of the club bosses. Almost inevitably he was elected president of the union.

One thing about Van Gaal that few appreciate in Spain is that he is an outspoken democrat, in the egalitarian sense of the word. At Barça, within the club, people worship him. Especially the lowlier workers. Anecdotes abound. When Van Gaal arrived at Barcelona the first time, he was shocked to hear how little the doormen were paid, so he immediately went to see the club president, Josep Lluis Nuñez, and demanded that they be given an increase. Nuñez, taken aback, immediately succumbed. best canada goose coat for skiing

And there’s the story about the day when a group of ‘star’ players, as a member of Van Gaal’s staff put it, were walking in their boots down a corridor that leads to the Barça dressing room. The floor was wet. The cleaning lady, who was standing by, had just finished mopping it. Van Gaal, noticing that the players were making more work for the woman, ordered them to sit down, and to remain sitting down until the floor had dried. An employee who edits videotapes for Van Gaal said to me recently, burning with earnestness: ‘If Van Gaal asks me to go to hell and back with him, I’ll go to hell and back with him!’

Perhaps that’s why Van Gaal came back, why he decided once more to brave the fury of the mob. The knowledge that within the bosom of the club he is loved. Which goes to the heart of the dilemma he faces at Barcelona. He is blunt, straight-speaking, honest — qualities that are valuable in the private sphere but counterproductive in the political realm. Add his gruff style, and you have a recipe for endless war. With one proviso. Barcelona play Real Madrid on Saturday. Such is the nature of the fickle, fussy Barça fans that, if their team win, if they conquer the old enemy, Van Gaal will have won himself a truce until the two teams meet again at the Bernabeu on 20 April next year. But if Barça lose to Real at the Camp Nou and other results do not go the club’s way, he will be out — depend upon it — by Christmas.

Октябрь 21st, 2012

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