Football Features

The Louis van Gaal legacy: Every youth player the ex-Man Utd & Barcelona boss ever promoted

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 13:35, 23 June 2020

Although the latter years will be remembered more for an underwhelming Manchester United spell, Louis van Gaal had a largely outstanding managerial career.

Across five clubs, based in four different countries, the Dutchman won 20 pieces of silverware in 24 years, including the Champions League title with boyhood club Ajax.

It was at the Amsterdam giants where he made his name as a champion of developing youngsters, handing out numerous first-team debuts to several prodigious talents from their esteemed academy.

He took that mentality to Barcelona, AZ, Bayern Munich and lastly Manchester United. Not all enjoyed stellar careers, though a few did, so that alone cements his legacy in the history of football.

Below are 45 players who owe the beginning of their footballing journey to the 68-year-old Dutchman.

David Alaba

Club: Bayern Munich
Year: 2010

The defender-cum-midfielder has been regarded as one of the top left-backs in European football but has since taken his quality to the centre of the defence. The Austrian, still only 28, regularly praises Van Gaal for shaping him into the footballer he is. “He gave me a lot of trust,” he said earlier this year.

“He threw me into the cold water early and today I’m grateful for that. He was a manager who was very ‘mutig’ [brave] at this time.

“He brought out Thomas Muller, Holger Badstuber and me. He brought a lot of football instinct with him and you could feel in every single practice he has a plan and he knows what he wants.”

Holger Badstuber

Club: Bayern Munich
Year: 2009

Unlucky with injuries in recent years and now in the 2. Bundesliga with Stuttgart, the German international was a regular presence under Van Gaal at Bayern Munich.

Milan Berck Beelenkamp

Club: Ajax
Year: 1996

Berck Beelenkamp’s time in Amsterdam was brief, and before retiring in 2013 enjoyed spells at De Graafschap, Haarlem and Genoa.

Tyler Blackett

Club: Manchester United
Year: 2014

A lot was expected after showing early promise, but Blackett couldn’t make the grade at United and promptly represented Celtic, before settling at Reading.

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson

Club: Manchester United
Year: 2015

The full-back was a bright spot in the final days of Van Gaal’s tenure at Old Trafford but has remained unable to break into the first-team.

Job Bulters

Club: AZ
Years: 2006

Bulters would only play three matches for AZ before moving on to Telstar and then MVV, before representing EHC as recently as 2016.

Diego Contento

Club: Bayern Munich
Year: 2010

Contento’s time with Van Gaal was brief, as well as his period with Bayern. Today he’s plying his trade with Fortuna Dusseldorf although he has not featured for the first-team in the 2019/20 season and will leave the club at the end of the campaign.

Edgar Davids

Club: Ajax
Year: 1991

Dubbed “The Pitbull” by Van Gaal, the Dutchman was one of the most celebrated and revered midfielders of his generation.

Timothy Fosu-Mensah

Club: Manchester United
Year: 2016

The former Ajax youth player was regularly trusted by Van Gaal, but was on the periphery under his successor Jose Mourinho. He remains at the club but is yet to break into the first-team.

Gabri

Club: Barcelona
Year: 1999

Gabri was one of the many products of La Masia brought through by Van Gaal, though his career at Barcelona wasn’t as illustrious as some of his contemporaries.

Andres Iniesta

Club:Barcelona
Year:2002

Arguably the finest midfielder of the last decade, Iniesta has previously described Van Gaal as his most important coach.

“I always say that I owe a lot to all of my coaches, including those from my youth,” he said.

“I learned from everyone, everyone helped me to become a better footballer and to develop as a person.

“A Louis van Gaal, for example, was very important because I made my debut under him. He put my trust in me and turned me into a professional footballer.”

Saidy Janko

Club: Manchester United
Year: 2014

Janko left United almost as soon as he arrived, but not before playing for the Red Devils. He’s currently on loan at BSC Young Boys from Porto.

Jofre

Club: Barcelona
Year: 1998

Much was expected of Jofre when he emerged in the late 1990s, but has since enjoyed a journeyman career, ending with FC Goa in India.

Patrick Kluivert

Club: Ajax
Year: 1994

Ajax’s failure to sign Ronaldo saw Kluivert promoted from their academy, and he would end his debut season scoring the winning goal in the Champions League final.

Thomas Kraft

Club: Bayern Munich
Year: 2010

Kraft spent one season at Bayern before establishing himself at Hertha Berlin, where he remains albeit as backup to Rune Jarstein.

Denny Landzaat

Club: Ajax
Year: 1996

It never worked out for Landzaat at Ajax, but he’s enjoyed a stellar career including reuniting with Van Gaal at AZ.

Jeremain Lens

Club: AZ
Year: 2005

It was in Alkmaar where Lens made his name, and he has since turned out for PSV, Sunderland, Fenerbahce and Besiktas.

Eli Louhenapessy

Club: Ajax
Year: 1996

Louhenapessy never made the grade at Ajax, and spent the final seven years of his career in Italy, most notably with Salernitana Calcio and Carrarese Calcio.

Paddy McNair

Club: Manchester United
Year: 2014

Another defender brought through from United’s academy by Van Gaal, but has since departed for Sunderland and is now at Middlesbrough.

Mario Melchiot

Club: Ajax
Year: 1996

The full-back was part of the Ajax squad that reached the 1996 Champions League final, and would enjoy spells at Chelsea and Wigan Athletic.

Kofi Mensah

Club: Ajax
Year: 1996

The defender spent three years with Ajax, making just 21 league appearances.

Kiki Musampa

Club: Ajax
Year: 1995

After leaving Ajax for Bordeaux in 1997, the former winger enjoyed spells with Malaga, Atletico Madrid and Manchester City among others, before retiring in 2009.

Nano

Club: Barcelona
Year: 1999

The winger, who can also operate at left-back, didn’t have the career he would’ve wanted after debuting in 1999, finally retiring in 2018 after three years at Racing de Ferrol.

Gregory Nelson

Club: AZ
Year: 2007

Nelson is currently without a club, leaving Indian Super League side Chennaiyin FC in 2019 after two years.

Tarik Oulida

Club: Ajax
Year: 1992

Spent three years with Ajax before departing for Spain for a spell at Sevilla.

Andreas Pereira

Club: Manchester United
Year: 2014

Still highly-rated by those at Old Trafford, he was sent out on loan to gain more first-team experience with Valencia but is now threatening to become a big part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad at United.

Carles Puyol

Club: Barcelona
Year: 1999

Arguably one of the best central defenders of his generation. Puyol was the rock behind the Barcelona and Spain squads that conquered the world domestically as well as internationally.

Marcus Rashford

Club: Manchester United
Year: 2016

One of Van Gaal’s biggest success stories was the breakthrough of Rashford in early 2016. The Englishman is considered one of the best prospects in Europe right now, and can only get better still aged just 22. And that’s before you include the excellent work he has been doing off the pitch.

Martijn Reuser

Club: Ajax
Year: 1993

Perhaps more well known to English fans for his time at Ipswich Town between 2000-2004.

Mario Rosas

Club: Barcelona
Year: 1998

Another that failed to make the grade after coming through the Barcelona academy. Retired from football in 2014 following a spell with Eldense.

Dennis Schulp

Club: Ajax
Year: 1996

Made his professional debut for Ajax by coming on for a young Patrick Kluivert. Last played for DOVO – an amateur football team in the Netherlands back in 2010.

Clarence Seedorf

Club: Ajax
Year: 1992

Considered one of the most successful players in UEFA Champions League history, as he’s the first, and currently only player to have won the competition with three different clubs.

Arno Splinter

Club: Ajax
Year: 1996

Made just nine league appearances for Ajax in three years at the club.

Ignacio Tuhuteru

Club: Ajax
Years: 1993

Left Ajax in 1994 to join the Chinese Super League when it wasn’t as popular as it is today.

Rody Turpijn

Club: Ajax
Year: 1996

After leaving Ajax for De Graafschap in 1999, he called time on his career four years later.

Víctor Valdés

Club: Barcelona
Year: 2002

Valdes went on to win numerous La Liga titles with Barca, as well as the Champions League three times. Was reunited with Van Gaal at Manchester United, but that experience wasn’t pleasant and went on to Middlesbrough before retiring in 2017.

Dick van Burik

Club: Ajax
Year: 1993

Made just three league appearances for Ajax, and retired from the game in June 2007.

Dave van den Bergh

Club: Ajax
Year: 1996

Left Ajax in 1997, retired in 2009 and is now assistant manager at MLS side New England Revolution.

Marko Vejinović

Club: AZ
Year: 2009

Spent his entire career in the Netherlands, with spells at AZ, Heracles Almelo, Vitesse and Feyenoord before making the move to Poland with Arka Gdynia in 2019.

Ruud Vormer

Club: AZ
Year: 2006

Spent four years with Roda JC, now with Club Brugge in Belgium.

James Weir

Club: Manchester United
Year: 2016

Made his debut as a substitute for Ander Herrera against Arsenal in February 2016, joined Hull City on a permanent basis on deadline day in summer 2017. He’s now in Slovakia with Pohronie.

Clyde Wijnhard

Club: Ajax
Year: 1993

Spent almost a decade in English football with the likes of Leeds United, Preston North End, Huddersfield Town and Oldham Athletic. Now helps young Dutch footballers gain trials at English clubs.

Menno Willems

Club: Ajax
Year: 1996

Was advised to call time on his professional career at the end of the 2005/06 season because of a knee injury.

Nordin Wooter

Club: Ajax
Year: 1994

Once Watford’s record signing in 1999, he scored three goals for the Hornets during a three-year stint. Retired in 2008.

Xavi

Club: Barcelona
Year: 1998

Easily recognisable as one of the greatest central midfielders of all-time. Often regarded as the brains behind Barcelona and Spain’s tiki-taka passing style and a true proponent of Louis van Gaal’s style of play.