Louis van Gaal’s return to management has already provided a great deal of entertainment. The Netherlands manager congratulated Utrecht midfielder Quinten Timber on being vaccinated by saying, “Thank god you’re not an idiot”. He animatedly spoke of the need for his defence to function like a “steering wheel”, while miming driving a car to an amused interviewer. This week he has topped it all off by tearing into a journalist who suggested he wanted to mimic what the reporter perceived as Chelsea’s ‘defensive’ style.
Fans on these shores are familiar with the whirlwind of controversy and comedy that ‘LVG’ can conjure. His two-season spell at Manchester United saw more entertainment off the pitch than on it at times. While van Gaal’s turgid, possession-based football felt at odds with the attacking demands of Red Devils fans, his remonstrations and outbursts filled plenty of column inches during his Premier League excursion.
Is the Dutchman’s United legacy as a figure-of-fun first and a manager second slightly unfair? Perhaps. While the Old Trafford club were often somnambulic in their play, he did enjoy some scattered successes. A fourth-placed finish in his first season in charge was an improvement on the previous campaign, and restored United to the Champions League. While league form declined in the season that followed, with United finishing fifth, van Gaal did capture the club’s first FA Cup since 2004.
The quality of football, and the club’s tame Champions League performance, means the van Gaal stint is not fondly remembered on the pitch. But the memories he provided away from games live on in Manchester. This week’s rumble with a journalist evoked memories of the time he called a writer “fat man” for criticising Wayne Rooney, or the time he play-slapped another scribe who suggested signing Ashley Cole as a replacement for the injured Luke Shaw.
No amount of standout Serie A performances will ever help defender Chris escape the amusing “Mike Smalling” shouts, after the former Barcelona manager mis-identified his own player during a press conference. Nor will anyone soon forget Louis urging his players to get “horny” as a way of showing their desire. The Dutchman’s wonderful turns of phrase would become a feature of the United press room, such as him once saying of pundit Paul Merson, “This man is not normal.”
Louis van Gaal’s greatest United moment however, beyond the Champions League qualification and the FA Cup success, came against Arsenal. Throwing himself upon the Old Trafford touchline to demonstrate to fourth official Mike Dean that an Arsenal player had dived, the clip has been endlessly memed in the years that have followed. More than style of play, trophies, “horny” players or league placings; this is Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United legacy.
We almost certainly have not seen the last viral Louis van Gaal moment, if the early part of his Netherlands return is anything to go by. When he was racking up silverware with Ajax and Barcelona in the 1990s, his coaching methods put van Gaal ahead of his time. And by becoming the first manager to lend himself so beautifully to internet meme culture, he has arguably remained so.