Manchester United fans must be enjoying the World Cup.
Their England players have an extended summer holiday after going out in the group stage. Their new manager, Louis van Gaal, is showing why the club’s management put its faith in him to resurrect the team’s Premier League fortunes.
Van Gaal, who heads to Old Trafford after the World Cup, is proving in Brazil that he can build a team, out-think opponents and — most importantly — win.
“I think football is about winning and I want to win. So I choose a system which means we can win,” The 62-year-old Dutchman said after his Netherlands team beat Chile 2-0 for its third straight win in Brazil that ensured it topped Group B. “That is football — you have to develop a winning strategy.”
Veteran player Dirk Kuyt underscored the faith the Dutch players have in their manager on Tuesday when asked about the team’s round-of-16 opponent, Mexico.
“I am sure our coach, Louis van Gaal, is going to come with a great plan,” he said. “We have to wait and see what happens next week, but we are prepared for everything.”
Preparing his players for everything was something Van Gaal’s predecessor at Manchester United, David Moyes, failed to do last season. The team finished seventh, its lowest placing since the Premier League began in 1992.
Van Gaal has faced criticism in Brazil for jettisoning the Netherlands’ traditional 4-3-3 system, the foundation for years of attacking “total football” in which players moved and passed quickly, switching positions and running opponents ragged.
Instead he has placed his faith in a system with five defenders, three midfielders and two attackers.
Van Gaal, long an outspoken proponent of attacking football, insists his 5-3-2 formation can also create offensive pressure and the results in Brazil bear that out. His team has scored 10 goals in its three matches and conceded just three — two of them to penalties that Van Gaal — at every opportunity — insists were wrongly awarded.
On Monday in Sao Paulo’s Itaquerao Stadium, he stationed veteran striker Dirk Kuyt at left back, giving him free rein to roam up the wing on counterattacks whenever he could.
It wasn’t always pretty — the Netherlands only needed a draw to top the group and played a waiting game for much of the match — but it was effective.
Two late goals handed Chile, one of the most attacking teams at the World Cup, its first defeat of the tournament. The South Americans managed just one shot on goal the entire match, while the Dutch had eight.
The Netherlands were always going to score goals at this World Cup with a strike partnership of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben fed by Wesley Sneijder. The front two have three goals each and substitute Memphis Depay has two in two appearances as a second-half replacement.
Those goal scorers highlight one of Van Gaal’s strengths as a coach — managing to blend experienced players with up-and-coming youngsters. He was the manager who gave Thomas Mueller his first match at Bayern Munich and blooded Xavi Hernandez at Barcelona. He took an Ajax team including veterans like Frank Rijkaard and youngsters including Patrick Kluivert to the Champions League title in 1995.
Now he will likely have to inject fresh talent into Manchester United next season.
He will relish the challenge and has a record that proves he is up to it.
“If you look at my resume, you’ll see I win a lot,” Van Gaal said. “It’s not just now.”