Signs of life return to Dutch football after first weeks under Louis van Gaal
The match between the Dutch national team and Turkey (6-1) was no longer stressful when supporters made an orange wave through the Johan Cruijff ArenA and chanted the name of Louis van Gaal. "It's nice to see so many happy people," the national coach said a little later. "Beautiful even."
Van Gaal is back with the Dutch national team, for the second time. And his players, media followers and the national teams of Norway, Montenegro and Turkey have noticed that "We can do much better," said Frank de Boer's successor. "But we have already come closer to the World Cup in Qatar with the lead of the group."
Tired and reasonably satisfied, the 70-year-old Amsterdam resident left the stadium, where his former club Ajax plays all home matches, after a resounding victory over Turkey. "It was intense," he stated. "I have been working with my players and staff members every day from 9 in the morning until 10 in the evening."
Van Gaal could only lose a week and a half when he interrupted his retirement and started a third term as national coach of Oranje. In the past years, he was mainly remembered as the national coach who led a team with many players from the Eredivisie to third place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Now, as the successor to Frank de Boer, he could become the coach who fails to bring the Netherlands to a World Cup for the second time.
The former coach of Ajax, Barcelona, AZ, Bayern Munich and Manchester United seems to have softened. During his meetings with his "friends from the media" he rarely went in fighting. Except for a while on Thursday. "You don't get it," he told a journalist. "But it doesn't matter. But you should read my books. But you won't."
After a failed European Championship, Van Gaal barely had time to prepare his players for the matches with Norway (1-1), Montenegro (4-0) and Turkey (6-1). He did everything he could to get into the minds of his players. He still calls it imagining. The national coach also still adheres to the human principle. He immerses himself in his players. He knows one thing for sure. "This is the most beautiful and happy group of players I have ever seen."
Van Gaal still does little without thinking behind it. He addresses his players before training just in front of the stands where journalists are allowed to sit. He showers them with compliments whenever possible. But also lets Cody Gakpo and Tyrell Malacia know clearly if they've done something wrong. "Because that's top sport," he says.
He gives a lot of information at press conferences. He packs that with the necessary humor, like a kind of comedian. Whatever you think of him, there's someone behind the table when Van Gaal speaks to the media. Players say they know where they stand. They are also extra sharp. "Because it is Louis van Gaal who is standing in front of you," acknowledged captain Virgil van Dijk.
Oranje seems to have a bit of a future again, after the failed European Championship. Frenkie de Jong plays center because Van Gaal thinks that is one of his best players. Davy Klaassen is suddenly a basic player and important, and for Marten de Roon and Wout Weghorst the change of national coach turned out less well for the time being. "This is only the beginning," said Van Gaal after the victory over the Turks. "We are now going to see how we can get much better. Because that is certainly possible."
Reporting by ANP