If you’re a national team which suffered an ignominious exit from Euro 2020 and subsequently become managerless, who ya gonna call? Well, in the case of the Netherlands FA (KNVB) it’s Louis van Gaal.
According to reports, a delegation has visited Van Gaal’s Portuguese home seeking to appoint him as Frank de Boer’s successor. For those paying attention it’s a case of déjà vu. Following an embarrassing Euro 2012 campaign which ended Bert van Marwijk’s reign, the powers that be turned to Van Gaal who previously oversaw a disastrous 2002 World Cup qualification campaign.
Van Gaal’s second spell in charge proved much more successful as Oranje finished third at the 2014 World Cup, before the Dutchman went on to Manchester United. Since leaving Man Utd in 2016, Van Gaal essentially quietly retired from the game, but those with Dutch football’s best interest at heart hope to coax a third spell out of him.
If the Amsterdammer says ‘yes’ then, naturally, there will be winners and losers.
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Winner: Memphis Depay
It’s well-documented how much Memphis Depay saw Van Gaal as a father figure so any potential reunion is likely to be celebrated. The Barcelona forward made his national team debut under Van Gaal in 2013 as a late sub against Turkey, going on to make 10 appearances whilst scoring twice, with both goals coming at the 2014 World Cup.
Depay would eventually follow Van Gaal to Manchester United in 2015 but the Moordrecht-born forward couldn’t find success at Old Trafford (scoring seven goals across 53 outings) before moving onto Lyon where he would experience a period of rejuvenation at both club and international level.
There’s no doubt Depay is a far better player now than he was previously under Van Gaal. Back then, Oranje‘s ‘most valuable player’ was effectively a squad man who could make an impact from the bench, now he’s arguably the first name on the team sheet. Armed with this piece of knowledge, the sky’s the limit regarding a renewed partnership between Depay and Van Gaal. It will be interesting to see how the legendary Dutch tactician would utilise Depay considering the success he has enjoyed since transitioning into a ‘False No.9’ during Ronald Koeman’s tenureship.
Loser: Other candidates
For some observers the KNVB going back to Van Gaal presents a big issue. Firstly, it reinforces long-standing accusations of short-sightedness and, secondly, their unwillingness to look beyond the Netherlands borders. This is not to suggest LvG isn’t up to the task but following a lame Euro 2020 exit, a golden opportunity to introduce something new presented itself.
Of course, economics could be a factor, but not approaching free agent Antonio Conte, who has previous international coaching experience, and at least seeing where he stands does speak volumes. Conte would naturally bring a different perspective but sticking with a native Dutchman, the last foreign Oranje coach being Ernst Happel (1977-78), is understandable if not frustrating. Then again the likes of former Oranje captains and now unemployed coaches Phillip Cocu and Giovanni van Bronckhorst will have to wait for their turn.
If there’s one group that will be salivating about the prospect of Van Gaal resuming coaching duties it’s the media, whom he’s enjoyed a healthy combative relationship with since becoming Ajax manager in the early 1990s.
Good for a soundbite or two, Van Gaal’s press conferences should be as entertaining as before. Since leaving Man Utd, the 69-year-old returned to punditry duties but that’s no replacement for a battle-hardened manager who is undoubtedly entering the final stretch of an illustrious career.
Loser: Patrick van Aanholt
This really depends on Van Gaal’s chosen tactics and formation. He famously switched to a back-three during his previous tenure but the classical ‘Dutch school’ is deeply entrenched in him. If he does implement three at the back, given who’s available, we can predict Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt and Stefan de Vrij being part of that triumvirate with Denzel Dumfries certain to keep his spot at right wing-back although Rick Karsdorp of Roma deserves another look.
On the opposite flank Daley Blind is a strong contender to get the nod, given how well he performed there under Van Gaal in the past, which consequently threatens Patrick van Aanholt’s involvement. The 30-year-old free agent ended Euro 2020 as Oranje’s first choice left-back though everyone starts with a clean slate under the incoming administration and there’s couple eligible for selection who proved themselves to Van Gaal before so it will be understandable if he initially opts for them.
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Winner: Tomorrow’s stars
The Netherlands boasted the eighth-youngest squad at Euro 2020 with an average age of 27.2 years old and no fewer than seven players aged 23 or younger. If we include those who earned a call up in the last 12 months the number rises to 15 which, at the very least, illustrates there’s an emerging class ready to breakthrough and become mainstays. This will be music to Van Gaal’s ears. Perhaps there’s no coach since 1990 who is more synonymous with youth development than him. Everywhere he’s gone the man dubbed “Iron Tulip” has regularly sought to promote from within.
We have already seen Jurriën Timber, Ryan Gravenberch and Donyell Malen feature this summer under Van Gaal’s student Frank de Boer, and the trio plus their fellow generational compatriots should welcome his appointment as it will present a golden chance for more playing time which could end with a place in their 2022 World Cup team.
Oranje will obviously need to secure qualification and they’re currently a point behind Turkey in Group G with seven matches remaining. A stubborn fundamentalist in every sense of the word, it would not be surprising to see Van Gaal inject a dose of youth as he seeks a second major international tournament participation.