Van Gaal is best manager at World Cup
Van Gaal has proved to be the best coach at this World Cup, after numerous tactical decisions sealed a semi-final spot for the Oranje
COSTA RICA 0
- Holland win 4-3 on penalties
Louis van Gaal fits this tournament like a mad professor fits a straitjacket.
He is entirely in keeping with an exhibition of attacking, often crazy and occasionally chaotic football.
The World Cup had ticked every box except one. Unforgettable goals, riveting games, enigmatic impresarios, national heroes and pantomime villains; there had been more excitement, depth and variety in the dazzling Brazilian sunshine than anyone anticipated.
But the managers had all been a bit humdrum. In a tournament that seemed to have everything but lion tamers and Coco the Clown, the suits in the dugout belonged in Mad Men. But they were not mad men.
Inside a Big Top of zany brilliance, the benches were filled with a conference of chartered accountants.
Miguel Herrera offered the histrionics initially; a bright, bubbly, boiling mass of colourful contradictions, the Mexican coach illuminated on the sidelines but disappeared shortly after.
Herrera proved to be the warm-up man for a main event that hasn't so much dominated the coaching spotlight, but grabbed it, toyed with it, re-positioned it and then replaced it with a taller, more slender spotlight of his own choosing.
Van Gaal is a managerial monster; a unique 62-year-old fireball of inexhaustible energy.
Matches are a chance to show off his cerebral superiority. Press conferences are there to feed his voracious ego; nothing more than a buffet of soundbites for him to gorge on.
He combines the ruthless self-promotion of a door-to-door detergent salesman with his tactical acumen and an unswerving conviction that he is always right. And remarkably, extraordinarily, he usually is.
Van Gaal unleashed his winger-driven 3-4-3 speedsters to write tiki-taka's obituary. The Spanish celebration of possession football had won them three successive tournaments. Holland consigned them to the history books in 45 minutes of scintillating counter-attacking mayhem.
He reassigned roles against Australia and moved around more pieces than a chess player to achieve the desired outcome against Mexico in normal time.
WHAT A MOVE
But he went where no World Cup manager has gone before in one heart-stopping, breathtaking moment of unrivalled arrogance.
Van Gaal replaced a popular goalkeeper who had kept his country in the tournament three minutes earlier. Jasper Cillessen's legs had just stopped Costa Rica pulling off the greatest achievement in World Cup history and he was psyched for the shoot-out.
He had no idea he was about to be replaced. Van Gaal hadn't told him.
Van Gaal's reasoning behind the most controversial substitution of recent time was not even statistics but psychology. He went with his guts.
The reputations of van Gaal, Cillessen and Tim Krul rested on a hunch. The line between madness and genius was suddenly the one between Krul's posts.
Krul's previous penalty performances were patchy to say the least. He had stopped just two out of the 20 he had faced in five years at Newcastle.
He hadn't played any competitive football in more than a month.
But van Gaal banked on Krul's intimidating introduction to unnerve the Costa Ricans. He expected, and demanded, that the 1.94m-tall goalkeeper slipped under their skin. Krul's (inset) reach had to exceed his grasp. And it did, twice, to send the Dutch into the final four.
Arjen Robben has memorably suggested that his manager has "a golden willy"; referring to van Gaal's reputation as a lucky manager. The Major-winning golfer Gary Player's assessment of a sportsperson's success is perhaps more relevant.
The more the 62-year-old practises at this coaching lark, the luckier he gets.
Much is made of Lionel Messi's Herculean efforts in guiding a mediocre Argentina side to the semi-finals. Neymar was tasked with similar, overwhelming responsibilities.
Less is said when a manager makes hay while his football sons struggle to shine.
The Dutch are in the final four despite failing to replicate that scintillating second-half showing against Spain.
Key performers have hit a plateau. Robin van Persie is either labouring under the weight of expectation or more likely running on empty after an injury-ravaged, debilitating season at Manchester United.
Wesley Sneijder offered a window into 2010 when he struck the woodwork twice, but can no longer command operations around the centre circle.
Daley Blind was pick-pocketed by the Costa Ricans in the first half, Georginio Wijnaldum provided little in the way of attacking impetus and Argentina hope to meet the jittery, uncertain Ron Vlaar who plodded around Villa Park last season.
Robben remains the lone source of guile and innovation on the pitch, but the real miracles are made in the dugout.
Van Gaal's reimaging of Dirk Kuyt into an attacking wing-back, utilising his inexhaustible engine and willingness to run himself to the point of collapse, has given the tightly-marked Robben a get-out-of-jail card along the right flank.
Memphis Depay's discovery also allows van Gaal the option of playing his preferred 3-4-3 or switching to 4-4-2 with conventional wingers.
The charismatic leader has continually tinkered to make the most of his limited resources, fashioning a formation that suits his personnel rather than enslaving them to his tactical dogma.
For a man renowned for being an unbending disciplinarian, van Gaal's philosophy has been surprisingly malleable.
Like licking a finger to measure wind speed, he takes stock of prevailing conditions and acts accordingly. He is a master of his own environment. He's the manager of the tournament in waiting.
Van Gaal is an incorrigible egocentric and an incomparable cheerleader for his own causes. But the self-perpetuating plaudits are thoroughly deserved.
The ego has landed in Brazil. And he doesn't seem to be going anywhere.
Van Gaal the reason for Dutch unity, says Robben
Arjen Robben has hailed the togetherness of the Holland squad after their dramatic penalty shoot-out win in yesterday morning's (Singapore time) World Cup quarter-final against Costa Rica.
Tim Krul replaced starting goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen in the dying moments of extra time and went on to save two penalties as the Dutch won 4-3 after a goalless draw.
And while internal problems have been cited as a reason for struggles in the past, Robben believes the substitute's impact and the scenes of celebration afterwards prove that Louis van Gaal's squad are united for the cause.
"(In the dressing room afterwards) it was a party. We were so good at the penalties too, compliments to Tim. It shows we do it all together," Robben said.
"We deserved to win. The only problem today was that we didn't score, but this was a great team effort."
Robben's teammate, Dirk Kuyt, also has paid tribute to his coach.
"Louis van Gaal is amazing," he said Kuyt.
"From the first minute to the last, he is prepared. He talks to his players and they all know their jobs. It is not easy for Tim Krul to come on at the last minute and save them, but he did it. He was busy with the Costa Rica players and put them off."
The effusive praise for the Dutch camp and especially their coach does not just come from within. Former Arsenal and England left back Nigel Winterburn has lauded van Gaal and his "sensational decision" to help the Oranje book a semi-final date with Argentina.
"I think it is in the spirit of the game and an absolutely sensational decision by the manager," Winterburn said.
"If you have a fantastic striker sitting on the bench, you'd have no doubt that he'd come on to take one of the penalties and, with the manager making this decision, it's justified by the result."
Van Gaal will take over at Manchester United at the end of the tournament in Brazil, and Winterburn says the Dutchman will have no problems adapting to life at Old Trafford.
"He's a big-name manager but what he's showing us at this World Cup is that he'll make big decisions," said Winterburn.
"Van Gaal doesn't care whoever's in the team, whether they're captain or not, he'll bring them off if he thinks they're not performing at a level he deems acceptable.
"I think you have got to have that at a big club. You have to know the manager's in control and is prepared to make the decisions, even if you don't like it at the time, for the best of the team." - Wire Services.