By Mark Gleeson
(Reuters) - Louis van Gaal arrives for his new job at Manchester United on Wednesday on a wave of expectation following the World Cup finals in Brazil where his reputation was greatly enhanced.
The achievement of the 62-year-old coach in taking the Netherlands to third place at the tournament highlighted the meticulous nature of his preparations and a single-minded self-belief.
The close rapport with his players will also excite the legions of Man United followers worldwide who are hoping their club will bounce back after a dismal season under David Moyes.
Van Gaal bucked convention and ran a gauntlet of heavy criticism when he changed tactics and ditched the traditional Dutch attacking style on the eve of the World Cup.
In a country obsessed with playing possession football, the decision to adapt a defensive approach with emphasis on swift counter attacks was tantamount to heresy but Van Gaal was eventually proved right – after getting his senior players to buy into his belief.
“He had everyone believing in the tactical changes and the fact it would work for us,” said Wesley Sneijder on the team’s return home this week. “Our success in the tournament was a lot about the coach.”
There were few detractors by the end of the World Cup as the Dutch battled their way to the semi-finals, eliminated by Argentina only on post-match penalties.
Along the way Van Gaal made several astute changes to influence the outcome of matches, drawing widespread praise for innovative thinking.
The use of forward Dirk Kuyt as an emergency right back was an example of a calculated gamble that the Dutch practised in training first before Van Gaal felt it could work in matches.
BELIEF IN YOUTH
He was also not scared to throw young players – like Memphis Depay and Jordy Clasie – into key World Cup games, highlighting his belief in youth.
In Brazil, Van Gaal made few references to his new job – he signed a three year contract with United in May – but looked genuinely enthusiastic when he eventually spoke about his next assignment after Saturday’s 3-0 win over Brazil in the third place play-off.
“It is an exciting challenge,” he told Dutch television.
It is a return to club football for the first time since Bayern Munich sacked him in 2011.
Van Gaal has shown little of his hand yet with the pre-season signings of Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao and Luke Shaw from Southampton.
At Barcelona more than decade ago he was heavily criticised for creating a colony of Dutch players, but one of them says that is unlikely to happen at Old Trafford.
“There were seven players dominating the changing room, speaking Dutch and not moving out of our own bubble. It was a very unhealthy situation and I think Louis realised that. He won’t do it again,” Ronald de Boer, now an analyst on NOS television, predicted.