Louis van Gaal – The Axeman
Don’t be fooled by the mischievous press conferences and boozy end of season awards banter. Louis van Gaal is ruthless.
In little over a year since succeeding David Moyes he’s managed to ostracise several players from Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign and even a handful he signed himself. The likes of Victor Valdes, Rafael, Angel di Maria and Danny Welbeck certainly won’t be sending any Christmas cards this year to the van Gaal residence in Alderley Edge, while the manager’s previously healthy relationship with Robin van Persie soured when the Dutch striker became surplus to requirements.
To anyone who’s paid any attention to the Iron Tulip’s career, none of this will come as a surprise. He’s been merciless throughout his managerial life – here’s a few players at previous clubs that have fallen foul of the controversial Dutchman.
The recent rumours linking Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a move to Old Trafford can be taken with a pinch of salt when you consider the two men’s previous relationship.
Van Gaal was technical director at Ajax in 2004 when Zlatan was making a name for himself. The duo clashed over the Swede’s role and defensive duties in the side and Ibrahimovic became embroiled in a power struggle between van Gaal and then Ajax boss Ronald Koeman. The striker left for Juventus shortly afterwards and has since referred to the United manager as “a pompous arse”.
During van Gaal’s first, Champions League-winning stint at the Amsterdam club, he clashed with a young Dennis Bergkamp, again, over the player’s role in the team. The non-flying Dutchman felt the boss’ philosophy to be “fanatical” and stifling of creativity and soon departed for Inter Milan, probably by bus.
Van Gaal has a reputation for disliking Brazilian players, referenced by Rafael upon his recent departure from Old Trafford.
Whether true or not, it stems from his two spells at Barcelona, where the Brazilian contingent were coldshouldered, with the manager preferring to place his faith in Dutch players.
Giovanni and Sonny Anderson soon lost their first team places after Van Gaal’s initial arrival, with the former calling him “a Hitler for Brazilian players…arrogant, proud and has a problem”.
Van Gaal’s run-ins with Rivaldo spanned his two tenures at the club, after bringing the Brazilian to the club in 1997. They first fell out in 1999, with the Catalan press siding with Rivaldo. Van Gaal left to manage Holland but upon his return in 2002, one of his first decisions was releasing the playmaker from his contract.
Rivaldo has said “I don’t like van Gaal, and I am sure he doesn’t like me either”.
Van Gaal signed German goalkeeper Robert Enke – the subject of Ronald Reng’s superb book “A Life Too Short” – for Barca in 2002 but soon lost confidence in him, banishing him to the bench in favour of a young Victor Valdes. The experience triggered the keeper’s first spell of depression. Sadly, Enke suffered from the illness – and a fear of failure – throughout his career and committed suicide in 2010.
Van Gaal enjoyed a relatively harmonious spell in charge of AZ Alkmaar, leading them to their first league title in 28 years.
However, not everything was rosy with a young Ron Vlaar accusing his manager of blackmail after being told he would be sidelined if he didn’t sign a new contract.
Vlaar pulled a ‘Raheem Sterling’ and called in sick but it wasn’t long before he was sold to Feyenoord.
The Dutchman has often being credited with laying the foundations for Bayern Munich’s recent successes, but it wasn’t without putting a few noses out of joint.
Another Brazilian, Lucio, was quickly jettisoned upon van Gaal’s arrival in Germany, the player claiming the coach had hurt him “more than anyone in football”.
Van Gaal also became weary of star striker Luca Toni’s relaxed demeanour, pulling him upright by the ears as the Italian slouched in a chair. This earbashing led to a spell in the reserves for Toni, who was soon on his way to Roma on loan, claiming “the way van Gaal treated the key players was unworthy on a human basis.
One key player who’d agree is fellow Dutchman Mark van Bommel. The midfielder was Bayern captain during van Gaal’s double-winning first season in Bavaria. However, this didn’t stop the manager signing a younger replacement – Luiz Gustavo – and van Bommel was soon on his way without even saying goodbye to his boss.
Franck Ribery was another star to collide with Van Gaal in Munich, with the manager accusing the winger of not making enough effort to return from injury. The Frenchman became downheartened at the constant criticism and stated that he “cannot say I have much fun with him or have a special relationship with him”.