Louis van Gaal is hoping he can replicate the team spirit that took the Netherlands to third place at the World Cup when he arrives at Manchester United.
The Dutchman will take over as manager at Old Trafford with the challenge of getting the English giants back on track after a difficult last season under David Moyes that was marred by rumours of dressing-room unrest.
But the 62-year-old should command the immediate respect of the United dressing room thanks to the Netherlands’ excellent showing in Brazil, due in large part to the team spirit that he forged.
His decision to hand goalkeeper Michel Vorm a late appearance as a substitute in Saturday’s 3-0 third-place play-off win against Brazil in Brasilia means all 23 members of the Dutch squad played some part at the tournament.
“There will always be a place in my heart for these 23 players,” said Van Gaal, who will be replaced as Dutch coach by the returning Guus Hiddink.
“My players were great. I hope that the group in Manchester will become like this one because we have to read from the same hymn sheet. I hope I can get them to do that there.”
Holland went unbeaten through qualifying and go home from Brazil undefeated too, with their semi-final exit against Argentina only coming after a penalty shoot-out; however, Van Gaal warned United supporters that they will inevitably find themselves on the losing side from time to time.
“I couldn’t do it with Ajax, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Losing is part of sport.
“I just hope that at United I can do my best. Whether that’s enough for the fans, we’ll have to wait and see, but I genuinely hope that will be the case.”
Van Gaal said he was ‘proud’ of the way the Netherlands performed in Brazil, despite seeing them fall just short at a World Cup once again.
And he admitted to feeling some satisfaction at leaving with a bronze medal having claimed that Fifa should never have sanctioned Saturday’s match in the first place.
“We scored 15 goals in seven matches and conceded four, two of which came from penalties that were unjustly rewarded. I think we can look back on a successful tournament and I am proud of my players and staff,” said Van Gaal.
He leaves the squad in good hands as they turn their attentions towards the next European Championship in France in 2016 with Hiddink at the helm.
He went against the Dutch tradition of playing a 4-3-3 formation and used a 3-5-2 system in Brazil, which made them so strong defensively that they conceded just one goal in their last five matches.
Now he hopes his success will ‘open eyes’ at home and make people realise that there are other ways to win matches.
“My dream was to become a world champion and we could have done it. This was my last match and we finish it with a medal, but it was also important to display a new style of football.
“Maybe this will open everyone’s eyes in the Netherlands and make them realise there is not just one system that can give people happiness.”
Meanwhile, Dutch winger Arjen Robben, the team’s most dangerous player throughout the tournament, said there was no doubt that the Netherlands had surpassed expectations.
“Nobody expected us to be in the last four,” he said. “We fully deserved this third place the way we played this tournament.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2014.