Van Gaal Expert: Giggs Or Guardiola Could Take Man United Hot Seat
You started your writing career at 16 around Sparta Rotterdam, where you first met Van Gaal.
It was our club. I was a supporter from six years old. I started to go there with my father in '68, and ten years later, I was 16, and we saw a man coming into the club who walked a little bit strange.
Someone said: “does he have an umbrella in his shirt?” I can't say I was obsessed by him straight away, but he struck me because he was different. Louis van Gaal was player, captain, advisor to the board; he was organising the parties at Sparta Rotterdam. He thought it was very important that women were involved, so the women of the players should celebrate the football too. He was always more than just a player.
Van Gaal is also a vocal supporter of Gay Pride, and has spoken out against homophobia. How much do his morals and politics feed into his approach to management and leading a club?
Louis van Gaal is very often offended by people calling him a dictator. At his very deepest level, he is a democrat.
He is a modern man. A family man. He is a product of the '50s, but he can grow with his time. The man is 64. The world changes and he is able to understand the changing world.
What is interesting last summer is that Louis van Gaal offered the world, football that was very un-Dutch; a defensive way of playing. It surprised me because what he said in his authorised biography is, “I would rather lose and play well, than the other way around.” That was in 2009. So he changed his opinions on football and I like it. A man has to develop himself and you have to be a little bit modern to grow with the new generation.
You’ve fallen out with Van Gaal. Do you think you can reconcile with him?
I've tried it, but he wasn't interested. Ok, fair enough. I can live without him.
Is there regret there? Did you enjoy being on good terms with him?
Yes, but not at any price. I like to be independent. If you're close to a player—and in Holland it was easy to get close to players and build up personal relationships—it's unhandy when you have to write the truth.
So what you and van Gaal have now is perhaps more honest?
It is, yeah. It's a critical book, but fortunately a book with admiration. I think he is an inspiring person. I'm very curious about how this adventure at Manchester United will end. I hope he doesn't make the mistakes of Bayern Munich: conflicts with Hoeness and Rummenigge; club icons.
Do you think he's now learned from that, and that's why he took Ryan Giggs on as his new assistant?
Yes. I think that's a mission he's got. He likes to make Giggs better, and I think he is the right teacher for Giggs, and from what I've heard, Giggs loves it. Giggs would be great if he became the manager of Manchester United.
He set up Guardiola at Barcelona and Bayern. Can you see him follow van Gaal again?
Why not. He was captain under Louis van Gaal. They have a good relationship. What I know from colleagues in Spain, he enjoyed Van Gaal and how he opened his eyes. Another coach who was influenced by van Gaal is Frank de Boer of Ajax. I expect him to have a career in the Premier League also.
Louis van Gaal inspired lots of important coaches. Of course too, Mourinho. So that's what he likes to hear. He likes to be a very important man, and he is an important man. But the only thing is, if you are an important man you shouldn't [Hugo beats his chest] do this, and that's what he sometimes does. Not now here in England I didn't see him angry yet. So you haven't yet the real Louis van Gaal yet. ne day there will be an explosion in the press conference room and there will be fireworks.
How you think van Gaal's time at United could end?
I hope he finishes the job: three years and then Giggs carries on. Probably a year under Louis van Gaal. Louis van Gaal is watching, then Giggs is the boss. I won't say that Manchester United will win the Champions League but getting into the semi's and finals. That is what should happen if Louis van Gaal can do his work.
In England, players from some nations such as Holland are viewed as being more eloquent, well-spoken and analytical than their English equivalents. Is Dutch football culture more intellectual?
Yes, I think so. Though your Premier League: you're spoilt. You have got the best players in the world playing here. It's poor if we watch in Holland and go to a Eredivise game. But what we always discover is young players, and what they have is a tactical smartness.
What I notice in Holland, lots of lovers of English football are visiting England and going to the lower divisions to have the smell of real English football. It's great. And Sparta was a club like that.
With that in mind, is van Gaal on a mission to right the wrongs of English football?
He would like to. He would be a greater technical director for the FA, but would the FA change from having typically English people within the FA? The main thing is, if you can count how many English players are in the Premier League that they can collect, there's not a lot.
You have 16 or 17 good players and that should be better. That's a thing Louis van Gaal can achieve if he took a job with the FA. Maybe after Manchester United? We'll have to see. Save English football? He would like that.
What other possibilities do you see for Van Gaal after football, after the United job?
I can't see the man doing nothing. That's what (Van Gaal’s wife) Truus likes, being in Portugal where they have a house. I hope that he will help my Sparta to take them back to the Eredivisie. Buy the club. It is for sale for £7m or £8m. With a year's salary, he can buy Sparta, and then re-organise it as a president.