Van Gaal vs Koeman: The top four's great rivalry?
One phrase I’ve heard mentioned by my old man describing Ronald Koeman was he is “quintessentially, Dutch management”. I asked him to elaborate into what he meant, in which he replied “jovial, smiling and generally happy”. I immediately agreed when he used his ace in his pack, Martin Jol as a reference point.
Martin Jol is brilliant, well not if you’re Johan Cruyff (another story altogether), but I’d say his warm glow during his after match conferences warrants my TV license or a thousand-pop up’s during online streaming. A face of pure naïve delight when he’d won or salvaged a point or that you’ve just been asked mum “if it wasn’t you that spilt your Coca Cola, then who was it?” face after a defeat. I think I could purely go on and write about my adoration for Jol’s Homer Simpson-esque outlook but I’ll save that for a rainy day.
A few days later, after watching Sky Sports News, I saw Van Gaal in all of his innate, abrupt conference glory. It hit me that for every Koeman’s ying (possessional play, happy-go-lucky), Van Gaal is the yang (long-ball play, puzzling/borderline harsh tone). This brought me to the comparison of both and how they’re both settling into English football. Obviously by this point a lot has been made of Van Gaal in relation to money spent versus the amount of success he’s brought in and the opposite for which what Koeman has received plaudits for. This must sting for the Van Gaal and to be honest it isn’t the first time they’ve been that bit between the teeth in each other’s mouth (sorry for any horrible images I’ve created).
Described by Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink as that both are polar opposites of each other, it’s fairly evident to see, ever since the breaking point when King Louis was appointed as a technical director of Ajax when Koeman was in charge as manager. Things got a little, let’s say tumultuous when the boundaries for each role overlapped thus leading to confrontation. With petulant little digs over the years such as Van Gaal referring to Koeman as “that boy” and fact of that they live 100 yards apart in the Algarve, but still have an audible distaste for each other, at least the respect for what they do hasn’t completely dissolved.
In Koeman’s final season in charge of De Kuip, he reverted to a system where he knew the defence was weaker than his other postions, but the main strengths were his midfield (Vilhena, Immers and Clasie) and the attacking prowess of Pelle, a man that’s obviously left a mark on Koeman. 3-5-2 was the plan and it worked enough to leave an effect on the league and eventually the national squad managed by, you guessed it, Van Gaal. Using it for his World Cup squad, with the quick destruction of Spain, Van Gaal was touted as the Tactical Genius in Brazil.
This sound bite was used for when Moyes was binned at the end of last season and Van Gaal was peddled as United’s saviour. Louis Van Gaal, tactical genius to rescue Man Utd*. I’m not saying that Koeman is responsible for what happened at the World Cup for Holland given that at such high stakes even substitutions can make a dramatic change, aka Krul and Costa Rica. Needless to say, they both must watch each other and follow the news closely when either name is mentioned.
*I can only imagine Moyes’ face supping a Sangria with is ghostly pale legs out whilst Van Gaal is slated by Savage on MOTD.
This leads us to this season and how it’s panning out. Southampton were destined for mid-table mediocrity and/or relegation battle, well at least for those journalists who hadn’t paid any attention to what Koeman has done in the Eredivisie. They can be forgiven as the jump from Holland to England is about as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle, mind. However, given the loss of key players and the signing’s that replaced them were fairly unknown in England, unless you’re like me and spend hours trawling through the Football Manager database. You may sense that I have a fondness for Dutch football and when it was announced the Saints had signed Tadic, Alderweireld and Pelle, I was very keen to see how it’d pan out. Remarkable can now be said at this point (10 matches to go and four point’s off fourth) in relation to their style of play but the unnerving clown in the dark room metaphor is that they look to be running out of steam.
The opposite can be said for King Louis’ Red Devils. Mismatched tactics (long-ball), top heavy formations and general misplacing of key players (Rooney and Di Maria) have led to grinding out of small-margined wins, but still they drudge on. However, they are fourth and remain one of the favourites to finish in the top four. Now, I’m a huge fan of the underdog, always have been and would be a Kevin Keegan moment of “Love it, just love it” if Saint’s did finish in the top four, given their links to Dutch football and the young and upcoming talent to blossom even more with that sort of exposure. This doesn’t necessarily mean at United’s expense, but the narrative for these two managers and these two teams, you can obviously see them paying a lot of attention to each other in the final few months.
Even if the Saint’s don’t finish in the top four, this season is a victory as they’ll most likely finish in a position that they find themselves in the Europa League, question is, will they find themselves losing players all over again in Schneiderlin, Clyne etc? Maybe so, maybe even to a Van Gaal-less Man Utd.
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