Is Louis van Gaal Manchester United’s Trapattoni?
Sport

Is Louis van Gaal Manchester United’s Trapattoni?

IT ALL seems so familiar. A team, down on their luck, failed to do it for a thoroughly decent but ultimately inappropriate manager and instead turned to someone with the suit, the CV, the ego and the self-belief.

Just like Steve Staunton, David Moyes was deemed to be out of his depth when asked to step into a position he never applied for and was totally unsuited for. And just like Giovanni Trapattoni, Louis van Gaal is the polar opposite of his predecessor.

Whereas Staunton and Moyes lacked charisma, Trapattoni and van Gaal redefine the meaning of the word. Whereas Staunton and Moyes did not have a trophy to their name, Trap and van Gaal have won the lot.

For Ireland in 2008, read Manchester United now.

They have gone from taking a chance to appointing a chancer.

Advertisement

Time may prove us wrong about this but there is a nagging doubt about van Gaal at 63 entering Old Trafford just as there was about Trapattoni arriving in Ireland as a 67-year-old in 2008. Each likes to talk about the past almost as much as they do about themselves.

And it makes us wonder. Trapattoni needed to reference the past because the present was so uninspiring.

And van Gaal?

He has just returned from a successful World Cup, where he guided Holland to the semi-finals, albeit after miraculous escapes against Mexico and Costa Rica. So clearly he can still hack it. But is he as good as he once was?

Doubts persist. That decorative CV is loaded with success — but mainly from the start of his career. Sound familiar? If Trapattoni was the coach of the 80s then van Gaal was the man for the 90s, the decade he won the UEFA Cup, Champions League, Intercontinental Cup with Ajax, as well as three Dutch league titles and one Dutch Cup.

From here he moved to Barcelona, winning back-to-back La Liga titles and the Copa del Rey. So far so good.

But time moves on and the man with 10 major trophies (and five minor ones) to his name by 1999, has rarely been seen in the winner’s enclosure since. From 1999 until today, van Gaal has won only four trophies, just three of which carry any weight.

Advertisement

So referencing his great CV requires an asterisk. What was great about it was what he did at Ajax and Barcelona in the 1990s, not what he managed to do in the noughties when World Cup qualification for 2002 was missed out on, courtesy of Mick McCarthy’s management and Jason McAteer’s goals.

From the sack with Holland, van Gaal returned to Barcelona, where once again he was handed his P45, losing almost a third of his 30 matches, leaving the Nou Camp with his reputation in ruins. To some degree it was rebuilt with AZ Alkmaar, a small Dutch club who he guided to just their second Dutch title in 2008-09.

Bayern Munich called. And after four games and just one win, they called van Gaal’s credentials into question. But a man with such a big ego also has the capacity to withstand criticism. He dealt with the pressure and ended that season winning the double in Germany, the first Dutch manager to achieve such success in the Bundesliga.

It all sounds great. Yet how come he was sacked a year later? Are his ideas outdated? Is he as energetic as before? Is he as good as before?

This season will answer those questions. This season will tell us if United are the new Ireland, and van Gaal the new Trapattoni.

The Italian remember droned on and on and on about what he did with Juve in the 70s and 80s to the point where it had to be asked, ‘If you are still so good, then what are you doing here?’

Trapattoni — we were frequently reminded — won 19 major trophies in his managerial career. However, only two of them (the Portuguese and Austrian league titles) were won in this century. Van Gaal, too, is a 20th century champion.

Advertisement

Is he good enough to carry his ideas into the modern era? It will be fascinating to find out.