Sunday, July 6, 2014

Louis van G(enius)aal!

Kuyt hugs legendary Krul after his second and game
winning save. Van Persie flies towards them too.
The Flying Dutchmen. Literally!
I have rarely enjoyed football as I did last night, when the Dutch team faced Costa Rica. The game was terrible in fact, 2/3s ball possession by the Dutch, but no goals. Many shots in the goal but (often lucky) Keylor Navas, the perfect goalkeeper, notorious for his training with tennis balls shot at him by a pro tennis player and never missing one, was able to defend his goalposts until the last minute, after a long game with extensions reaching the best part of 130 minutes (incl. the extra time at the end of each period).

Like I said, the game was terrible. The Costa Ricans blocked the Dutch most of the time with almost their entire team defending and closing all possible holes towards their goalposts. Despite great and heroic Dutch efforts and frequent near-miss goal-shots, Navas and his co-defenders managed to keep the game to a draw until the end. I watched it on the Dutch TV with an outstanding commentator, talking quite objectively with humility, I'd say. He excused himself midway second half suggesting that it seemed like, after the game between Greece and Cost Rica came to a draw that the latter eventually won on penalties, it was obvious Costa Ricans yesterday didn't quite play 'to win' but rather 'not to lose' during regular time, to eventually win the penalty shootout with Superhero Navas. Displaying a sample of 'effective' South American football tactics. No football entertainment whatsoever, but a rather calculated game to win at all costs with all known dirty tricks of the trade. Too much money at stake...

But this Dutch squad was not your regular cup-of-tea. They are trained and led by Louis Van Gaal, you see... a Dutch legendary coach who wrote football history in the past as manager of Ajax, Barcelona, AZ and FC Bayern München. Someone on the Belgian TV reporter panel mentioned that Van Gaal may be one of the best coaches in the history of football. A comment coming from a Belgian about a Dutch weighs twice, if you know what I mean... Following his World Cup in Brazil performance, he is about to continue his long brilliant career (he'll become 63 in August this year, so there's easily another ten years until retirement), when he starts as the new manager of legendary ManU in the UK. A dream coach with a legendary career. The man about whom a Catalan ex-colleague of mine responded, when I sent him a teaser message after Spain's 5-1 defeat by the Dutch in the beginning of the tournament: We're ready to have (back) van Gaal to (lead) Barcelona any day!

Nevertheless, the Dutch wouldn't be Dutch if they didn't criticise van Gaal and his decisions all the time, and go in lengths accusing him of all sorts of tactics and strategy misjudgements. He is aware of that of course and stays cool at all moments, especially when ambitious journalists dare ask him irritating questions that drive him up the walls. In a recent press conference such a spineless reporter implicitly pointed at him for tactically setting up a defensive game against Chile. Question was asked in English. Visibly irritated by the question, Van Gaal responded in Dutch by saying. "You, who asked the question, can you please give me the definition of 'offensive football'? Yes, you, the reporter who asked the 'smart question' (slimme vraag in Dutch)". Then of course he continued with his professional, strategic and managerial answer to explain his decision that literally shrunk the 'ambitious' reporter into obsoleteness. I happened to have watched that particular Van Gaal clip on TV several times, and got convinced he is definitely the coach who will win this tournament, hands down. The man is simply too good to be true... A manager and a Leader!

Unfortunately, many, out of jealousy and envy, I suppose, will not easily accept any such claim. What the hell do I know about football, you may ask... Maybe not as much as most of you, but I know shedloads about 'management' and 'leadership', and I can tell a strategic mind when I see one or hear one talk! Anyways... The unconvinced will continue to blame van Gaal anyways. Only yesterday alone 'De Telegraaf', a nationwide Dutch paper, displayed in its front page a full body shot van Gaal portrait photoshoped into a pirate of the Caribbean, carrying a long pirate sword with a dozen bananas pierced through. I fail to see the implied metaphor, but it simply shows the spirit of some Dutch idiots about their National Squad's coach. It's a fact of life indeed that Dutch self-awareness and self-conviction makes them often behave and think not like "I know better than all the rest', but rather 'why anyone else should know more than me?" There is this slight nuance in their subtle intellectual arrogance, you see. Often quite irritating but charming nevertheless.

So the Dutch and many others doubted van Gaal for a long time. Until yesterday, I hope. It was yesterday that his genius showed up like a blinding light in the darkness of cruel South American football tactics that we may have witnessed in recent tournament weeks. Leading up to last Friday's unfortunate incident of a Colombian 'player' (a savage for sure) 'tackling' the 22 year old Brazilian world-class scorer Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior... It was a calculated public execution as evidenced by the slow-mo replay of the incident.

Like I said, I have been watching yesterday's game on the Dutch NOS-1 TV channel. I am sick and tired of tactless Flemish commentators filling their discourse with useless tabloid faits divers about the players's personal lives, and often being that close to be called racist for their comments. Like in the recent game between Greece and Costa Rica, when the slime reporter accused Karagounis and most other Greek players for "missing a career in Greek Drama theater" each time they were knocked to the ground by 'friendly' South American fire. Of course, Belgians never won any World or Euro cup and will never do, seems like. Greece winning the Euro cup in Portugal in 2004 irritates sensitive Belgian reporter throats, each time they try to swallow the memories.

It's on decisive moments like this one in the history of football, when real geniuses shine. It was van Gaal's moment yesterday. When everybody on the Dutch supporter community was death sad about what was to come, van Gaal kept one last crucial player replacement that he was left with in his box of hattricks. That white rabbit was Tim Krul, and he was not a shooter! Van Gaal's last replacement was a new... goalkeeper. Who would have imagined? Who would have approved? But, Van Gaal is not your usual little town team coach. He is The Legendary van Gaal! We had to give him the benefit of the doubt for sure. Tim Krul, tall, fresh, self confident, whom we only yesterday saw perform in this tournament. A man who would write Dutch football history. It was not just us, casual supporters, that were stunned though! Most important, the Costa Ricans 'lost it'. In Dick Cheney's infamous words, 'Awe and Shock allover'! Obviously, they didn't know much about the new kid, they visibly lost control and most importantly their confidence; it was plain psychological warfare that good ol' Louis resorted to. Both, friends and critics were simply flabbergasted. The NOS reporter spoke of the same emotional effect on the South Americans (to me anything south of Mexico is South America, sorry...) . It was obvious in their faces as they approached the point to shoot their turn of penalty. Krul approached them too, friendly we thought initially, as they were busy fixing the penalty ball on the grass-mat, looking them straight in the eye, drilling them into their brains to read their minds, intimidating them (I wish I knew what van Gaal taught him to tell them), and returning with his 6' 4" length between his goalposts, looking bigger than life!

The Dutch penalty shooters, the squad's top players Van Persie, Robben, Kuyt, and Sneijder (who else?), shot their own turn right into the nets, almost piercing them, scoring a safe goal each. Navas remained simply helpless. A good kid, and an outstanding goalkeeper, but too tired to undertake this one last feat executed by that particular Dutch machine-gun round. Navas's team had already used all their replacements and, even if they had one more to do, like the Dutch, they had no other keepers to use it on. How many shots can you still catch, even if you are Navas himself, eh? Or even legendary one-eyed Gordon Banks? Navas's PR stunt with tennis balls shot against him suddenly evaporated in the light of reality, and remained a 'faits divers' for time-killers to watch on YouTube.

Needless to say, Krul ejected himself into the direction of the shot each and every turn of the Costa Ricans, and saved two out of four penalties (50%!!!). One among them was the shot by celebrity goal maker Ruiz! Only the best will eventually win...

Upcoming feat for the Dutch: Next Wednesday July the 9th, the facing of mighty Messi and his legendary Argentina squad in the second semi finals. This time though, our good Northern neighbours will have to deliver a 'payback' to the Messi clan for their pathetic win over Belgium that their lame attitude and an early lucky goal led them to. I strongly believe van Gaal is going for the cup. He said so publicly too. He'll leave Brazil with the cup in his hands. Will the South American emotional and cruel football style be able to stop him? I don't think so. It is clearly football tactics and brains against heartbeats and emotions. In cases like these mostly brains emerge as winners. Emotions end up in tears and deafening noise. You may not like it, but that's the way it is.

1 comment:

Nabil said...

I agree with you 99%. The only miss as fr as I am concerned is the brutal hit on Neymar. The Brazilains and especially Fernandinho started all brutally tackling the Colombians 52 times. The Spanish referee did not manage the game. It was a question of only when will the Colombians retaliate to such brutal attack and a blind referee.