In the coming days, The Peoples Person will bring you some great insight into Louis van Gaal by posing questions to fans of the clubs he’s had success at.
Van Gaal made his name at Ajax, and was manager between 1991-1997. To find out more about his time at the club, we spoke to Jonathan Douma, who fondly remembers Van Gaal’s time at the Dutch giants.
Louis van Gaal never made it as a player at Ajax, but his coaching philosophy was always influenced by the Dutch ‘total football’ ideology. How much did working under Leo Beenhakker hone Van Gaal’s ideas?
I don’t really think it did, actually. Even when he was still a mediocre player at Antwerp, AZ and Sparta Van Gaal had his own ideas about tactics. Being Beenhakker’s assistant was born more about of necessity than it was about sharing ideas with Beenhakker. Having been a small time player Van Gaal didn’t have the name to be appointed Ajax’ head coach right away. He had to prove himself as a youth coach, head of the youth academy and assistant. In my opinion he always had his vision, his own ideas. Maybe Beenhakker thought him some tricks on being a people’s manager, but he most certainly did not influence the tactical views of van Gaal.
His first success at Ajax came with winning the UEFA Cup in 1992 against Torino – tell us more about that particular squad he inherited and how he developed them.
Back in those days a club like Ajax could keep together a squad for more than one or two years. The larger part of Van Gaal’s Ajax side in 1992 had been together for five or more years. Being just kids when they made their first appearances under Johan Cruijff, they were grown men under van Gaal. They were homegrown, talented but also inexperienced. Van Gaal perfected the team, especially the Wim Jonk – Dennis Bergkamp partnership eventually landing them a transfer to Internazionale.
He was a PE teacher in his younger days. How do you think that helped him in developing that young Ajax team that enjoyed so much success at home and in Europe?
In everything Van Gaal does as a coach anyone can see he used to be a teacher. He doesn’t coach, he drills. He doesn’t talk about tactics, he teaches them. It’s probably also the main reason why he likes to work with young kids. He needs a team that follows his every decision. Player that don’t, superstars like Rivaldo, have no place in a Van Gaal-squad.
This does not mean he can’t handle big-name players. He worked with Rijkaard, Robben, Van Persie and it worked. But the players need to be prepared to follow his every move, to follow him like he’s their, well, gym-teacher. The Ajax squad in 1995 had the perfect mix of more mature, experienced, stars like Rijkaard, Blind and Litmanen combined with young rough diamonds Davids, Seedorf and Kluivert. Van Gaal had watched these young stars develop in his days at the Ajax youth academy. He thought them and they paid him back.
How much importance does youth development have in the philosophy of Van Gaal?
It’s everything. Even though he buys players, Van Gaal will rather look towards the youth department of the club he works for first. For instance at Bayern, were he didn’t need Neuer, he had Thomas Kraft (although one can debate that decision). Van Gaal will always give youth players a shot, he won’t be afraid to start them in big Champions League games.
Can you see him having a similar impact with the young players at Manchester United, and can he have success again with a young team or was that Ajax team a unique, one-off achievement?
The list of players who made first team under Van Gaal is long and impressing. Seedorf, Davids, Kluivert at Ajax. Iniesta, Xavi, Puyol at Barcelona. Badstuber, Alaba, Müller at Bayern. This list will certainly grow.
Is he the right man to rebuild Manchester United, and what can the fans expect from him?
The fans are in for one hell of a ride that’s for sure. They can expect success, since Van Gaal has been successful as a club coach everywhere. I’m expecting fireworks both on and off the pitch. Van Gaal has always had a difficult relationship with the press. In Holland he’s famous for his blacklist, a list of journalists and media he doesn’t speak to anymore. This will be no different in the UK; it will rather be fiercer. It should be more than interesting to see what will happen, especially once United loses a game or two. And they will, Van Gaal will need time to fix United. It should be interesting to see if he’s given that time.
Jonathan Douma has been an Ajax fan since the day he was born. He has been attending Ajax games for over 20 years. He cites Louis van Gaal as one of his heroes, due to bringing success to the modern-day Ajax. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter, @jonadoum, where you can ask him more about Ajax’s period of success in the 90’s and about our new manager, Louis van Gaal.