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Louis Van Gaal full interview on Netherlands, Ajax, Barcelona, Messi, Guardiola, Michels, Cruyff, and more!
Dynastian98 4 months ago
Real Madrid 483 7136

Question: The Netherlands is a country of painters, of artists. Do you feel that your work has an artistic vein?

Answer. No.

Q. But you love order, and order is the foundation of art.

A. I believe that every team needs a structure whose purpose is the collaboration between each of its members. Football is a team sport, not an individual sport. In Spain they forget this sometimes because they have stars. I think the star should help the team win. And in the world of football this is not the usual way.

Q. Don't you think that football has been automated in such a way that only that spirit of collaboration prevails, because the individual hero is more incapable of solving problems than 20 years ago?

A. I don't think so. Look at Barcelona. How many Champions have won with what they say is the best player in the world? Look at Neymar in the PSG. How many Champions won? I like Neymar and Messi as individual players, not as team players. I think there's nothing more important in team sports than the team player.

Q. Who is the best team player you saw this season?

A. One of the best is James Milner. In the Champions final he played as a defender and midfielder. It's fantastic that you can offer that at 33. And the strikers? Everyone plays for the team. Salah, Firmino and Mané work very hard in defence because Klopp wants to press. A few months ago he saw the light: he understood that pressing is not always the right thing to do. It depends on the conditions. His Dortmund was more offensive than his Liverpool, where he learned that sometimes you have to retreat a little bit, put your lines together and counter-attack. That's good for Salah, Mané and Firmino because they're very quick to take advantage of the spaces at the back of the opposing defence. Barça suffered it. I think Messi should wonder how it is possible to take so long without winning a Champions League.

Q. You were the Dutch coach the last time Messi won an important match with Argentina in the 2014 World Cup.

A. But they beat us in the penalty shoot-out! I didn't see much of Messi in that game! We were a better team.

Q. Are you insinuating that Barça does not win more Champions because of Messi's individualistic character?

A. I'm not in the dressing room nor in the training sessions of Barcelona. I can not judge. I like Messi as an individual player. He is the best individual player in the world because his statistics are amazing. I like it! But why hasn't he won the Champions League for five years? Why? As captain, you have to ask yourself why the team doesn't win in Europe. You can't say that Rakitic is bad, or that Coutinho is bad, or that Alba is a bad player, or Ter Stegen is a bad goalkeeper, or Arthur or Vidal...! I think Messi is also responsible for what is happening in Barcelona. Not just the coach. The players have a substantial part of responsibility for what happens in the team.

Q. Apparently Messi wants to reunite with Neymar again. What do you think?

A. That I remember that Neymar in Barça played to the service of Messi. I'm not against Neymar. It's fabulous but in PSG he doesn't play for the team. And I think every player should play for the team. Even Messi.

Q. Do you think Barça lacks the right structure?

A. It gives the impression. But I can not judge. They have a squad of 30 players and I think Messi should adapt to the team and not the other way around. Guardiola played it for the benefit of the team but the last coaches have adapted too much to Messi instead of protecting the team spirit. That's the most important thing.

Q. Why in the last 50 years the great tactical revolutions of football came from the Netherlands? This Ajax has done things we haven't seen in a long time.

A. Barça already did what this Ajax did because Messi can dribble in tight spaces surrounded by no matter how many defenders. What happens is that not only Messi is able to play like that: Coutinho, Busquets, Dembele, Roberto and Alba are also creative footballers in this aspect. Ajax had that with Ziyech, Tadic, Neres, De Jong and Blind, who are very creative players to maneuver in tight spaces. Only that they do it in their own country, and that's not the highest level. The highest level is the Champions League, and there you have to take care of the quality of the opponents. That's why Barça lost in the quarterfinals 4-0 against Liverpool. If there is a real team spirit, at the highest level that result is impossible. Even in the Champions is inconceivable that Barça lose by that difference with the players it has.

Q. Don't you think the dynamics of this Ajax is something really new? When Pochettino saw the continuous exchange of positions he said they were irresponsible players. Is this mobility part of a plan or does it respond to the character of individuals?

A. Of course, you always depend on the quality and character of your players. Always! As a coach you have to make an adaptation. This is the art of Ten Hag. Pochettino is not off-track, only that he thinks of structures from five years ago. I think there's a structure here too. Ajax always played like that, only not so chaotic. This comes from the players. Ten Hag allowed them to attack with this chaos but when they lost the ball the chaos dissipated because everyone knew exactly what they had to do. Against teams that park the bus you need this chaos. And today this happens constantly because football is much more defensive than in the past. It's not prettier anymore! But this Ajax can dismantle these kinds of defences. This chaos is profitable. They're not crazy because they've managed to balance when they lose the ball. They have the antidote to chaos.

Q. Is De Ligt the antidote?

A. De Ligt and De Jong were an antidote. De Jong can defend well. But the great antidote is the team's collective approach to losing the ball. Natural defensive talent isn't enough if your team doesn't have a balance between attack and defence.

Q. Which is more important, team spirit or tactics?

A. Tactics. But you can only stick to your tactical idea when you have team spirit. Of course with Messi you will enjoy the benefits of Messi, but in the end the best team will win. This year has been proven once again.

Q. You saw Rinus Michels train. What was his most important creation?

A. The principle of total football. The tactical idea that everyone should defend and attack. He achieved it with specialists in every position. Big and tall defenders like Blankenburg, Hulshoff or Vasovic; pure midfielders like Neeskens or Haan, and specialised attackers like Keizer, Cruyff or Swart. The idea was total football with specialists. He had that structure in his head. Then Cruyff played with specialists but added flexibility. He played with a false 9 and implemented Koeman as a defender when he was a midfielder. Cruyff wanted to build the play from behind and accompanied Koeman with Alexanco or Nadal, who were strong lads following Michels' heritage. At least one specialist! And then came Van Gaal and played with two central defenders whose first virtue was to start the play, as two Koemans. I won the 1992 UEFA Cup with Danny Blind and Wim Jonk, an attacking wing-back and a midfielder, playing as centre-backs.

Q. What is the midfielder's role in this system?

A. Today the playmakers must be the central defenders and the most defensive midfielder, because only behind you find space to make the moves. Of course, there are spaces in midfield too, but it's more difficult to make the most of them. Frenkie de Jong can do that. He can create superiorities, and he can also dribble and accelerate at the start of the play. This is very important because it eventually gives you one more man than your rival. I discovered that in the nineties: you have to make a difference not only with the #10 but also with the #3 and #4. Because when you only go out playing with a defender like Cruyff with Koeman, if you are the rival coach you can design a tactic to stop Koeman easily, forcing Nadal or Alexanco to start the game without having the right profile.

Q. What attribute can't be missing in that player who gives the first pass?

A. Danny Blind, Daley's father, was in his origins a right midfielder. I made it a centerback because he had a great sense of direction. Better than Busquets. He was a play anticipation artist. He could take the first step before his opponent took it and thus the muscular speed ceases to be important. When you're on the axis of defense you can run diagonally. When you run diagonally the power is no longer so relevant because the forwards must go towards the goal. For a central defender it is important to turn fast as long as he cannot anticipate the opponent's action. When you see him coming you have already turned before he arrives and you can intercept the pass. De Ligt is powerful and fast, and he is well oriented although I think not as much as Daley Blind. The sense of anticipation is in the genes!

Q. Why did Michels conclude that 4-3-3 was the best way to occupy space on the pitch?

A. I agree. But I discovered that 3-4-3 may also be the best drawing. In Ajax we've already played two strikers with three defenders and Koeman did it with Cruyff in Barça. Now Barça no longer play like that: they use the 4-4-2 because the left wing has become an inside midfielder.

Q. Many coaches with exceptionally gifted attacking squads discard 4-3-3 in favor of 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 to protect themselves from counter-attacks.

A. Obviously the quality of the players is decisive in this. But Barça must ask themselves if they still respect their playing philosophy. As a club you can't neglect your culture! With 4-3-3 you can easily defend. Ajax and Barça have done it with Michels, Cruyff, Van Gaal, Guardiola and even at the beginning with Lis Enrique. But you need team spirit to develop it well. Each player has to do his part. And this is not the case of the current Barça.

Q. Do you make the strikers responsible?

A. No! But when you lose the ball you must do your job. Ten Hag has trained the attackers to attack chaotically and think structurally when they lose the ball. After the loss they all move towards the ball in a coordinated manner. In five seconds they get it back. Barcelona did the same years ago. The 4-3-3 is the best model to attack and defend. But you have to apply it with the eleven players. Even the goalkeeper must join the field game to defend because when you advance to the opposing field he must take charge of the huge space at the back of his defense. Not all goalkeepers can because for that you need sense of orientation and footwork. In the Ajax model you depend more on the quality of the players.

Q. Put to create a team on the basis of 4-3-3, which player is the key?

A. All players are important as long as they have the qualities required for each position. Each position has a profile. But as a coach you must devise a structure adapted to the players and it is not always possible to develop a 4-3-3. Due to the qualities of my squad in the 2014 World Cup we beat Spain 5-1 with a 3-4-3 that became 5-3-2 in defence. This scheme also covers the field very well as long as the wingbacks know how to behave as fullbacks, midfielders or wingers depending on the situation of the game. So we took advantage of Sneijder as ten freeing him ahead and formed a four-flat line in midfield with De Jong and Wijnaldun in the middle, Blind and Janmaat outside. The occupation of the spaces was perfect because it is easier to defend the midfield with four than with three because of a physical issue. You do better at tilting. Even to press the opposing centre-backs out: we squeezed them with both strikers while the wingers squeezed the fullbacks. But beware: this 3-4-3 only develops properly if you have the guts. Not many coaches have them.

Q. Why?

A. Because you need the fullbacks to act as wingers. Otherwise 3-4-3 stays 5-3-2.

Q. Isn't it more difficult to find passing lines with four ruffles than when playing with three inside midfielders? Once you get the ball back with that 5-3-2 or that 3-4-3, how do you get to work fluidly from a flat line of four midfielders?

A. With midfielders of different profiles. De Jong was the anchor and Wijnaldun liked to move upwards to get between the lines and create passing options. You can't attack well without first breaking the line of four. The first rule of any formation is to get the maximum amplitude with the ball and compact without it. Against Spain, Sneijder helped us defending and we formed the 5-3-2 with Robben and Van Persie up. We won 5-1! And the only Spanish goal was a doubtful penalty!

Q. That was the end of Spain's golden age. Why do you think the national team hasn't lifted its head?

A. For me it's incredible. I love Spanish football. The players seem to have everything. It's not a problem of lack of quality or technical conditions. The only thing I can't judge is how they are personally, and this is very important. To play good football you have to play as a team and this is a society designed by people who only think about themselves and never think about their neighbours. Living conditions have changed. Computers are the great social difference of the century. I grew up with my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, the school and the priest. Nothing more. We needed to communicate. Now you can live with your computer. There is no one else there and then you ask yourself: "What can you do with this world? That's the only thing that occupies you. That isolation has been installed in society. But football is still a team sport, not an individual sport. As an institution, as a club, as a coach, you must find an antidote to this reality that we are creating. What a social life there was in Spain when I arrived in 1997! There were computers but only the most prepared people used them. The trend was zapping. You watched TV3 and the next second you switched to TVE, and the next you switched to Telemadrid. So we began to lose the ability to concentrate. I had to resort to antidotes: sophrology, psychology, visualization...

Q. Ajax made their best matches with Tadic as false 9 and the day Dolberg returned to the starting lineup as pure 9 coincided with the defeat and elimination against Tottenham. Is the #9 a figure in crisis?

A. Cruyff played that false nine role many times as a player and then as a coach he introduced the same idea into his teams. Cruyff made the same moves as Tadic. The key is Van de Beek, who runs into the box while Tadic goes down to the midfield. They share positions. To play with a false 9 like Tadic you need a Van de Beek in midfield. That's why Van de Beek started out as a substitute: because when they played with Dolberg, who doesn't leave the box, he had to be assisted with goal passes and that's not Van de Beek's profile. The two overlapped. The permutations disorient the central defenders. But they're not new. Puskas did it with Hungary and Di Stefano with Madrid because his teammates went to the position he left free. To achieve this harmony everyone must agree and this is part of the artistic structure of the coach. When Tadic, Van de Beek, Ziyech and Neres made their swaps, they did not affect the balance of the team because everyone had agreed that when they lost the ball they would press it together.

Q. Do you think the Premier League is the most competitive league?

A. Yes, but not because it has better players. Despite all the signings the Premier does not have the best because the philosophy in Spain is to educate players to use them. English clubs buy because they have more financial possibilities, but signing involves a risk of adaptation. Tactically and technically, La Liga is better. But the Premier League is more competitive because the pressure on the ball is higher than in Spain.

Q. How do you analyse the PSG experiment?

A. They don't have the right team spirit. It's obvious. I saw it in the Parc des Princes the day they beat Bayern 3-0 in the Champions League in 2017. I saw it on the pitch: the team-mates weren't happy with Neymar's style of play. And they are still not happy.

Q. Do you see that unhappiness in the lack of movement without a ball? Are strikers escaping from defenders more important in modern football?

A. They were always just as important. But more important than moving is the moment you move. Most top-level players don't have that quality. You have to interpret the intentions of your team-mates and your opponents. Too many readings at the same time.

Q. Can you mention a player who does well?

A. Salah was unleashed when Liverpool retreated instead of pushing so hard. And Van de Beek is the piece that completed Ten Hag's work. Jong's Frenkie also knows how to move at the right moment to get free. Busquets always does. Busquets anticipates the open space between rivals. And Xavi was even more intuitive to find the free space because he could speed up the play. Busquets passes the ball to the nearest player, while Xavi was able to find the second or third station in the development of the play. Guardiola was of that kind, but Xavi improved him. Xavi is among the best players of all time.

Q. What is Guardiola's greatest achievement in England?

A. Play the attacking style that excites the general public. Just like Ajax only that less chaotic. City is more structured. Pep is a structured man and his players must do as he thinks. With Teh Hag players can execute different things than what he indicates. With City you only see the hand of Guardiola. Winning all the titles for two years playing attack in England is a unique achievement. It's easier to achieve that by defending and playing counterattacking football. Mourinho won many titles playing defensively. The big challenge is to win the Champions with the idea of Guardiola.

Q. Do you think it is more difficult to win the Champions playing offensively?

A. Yes, Guardiola won it with Barcelona because he had Messi and because he didn't let Messi play his way. That's the difference. Messi was adjusted to the plan of Guardiola, and not the other way around. Guardiola gets the hardest thing: players move in the right direction at the right time. To achieve something like this you have to create a language, a team spirit, a community. Look Aguero. He played for himself until Guardiola changed it and now he moves at the right time. That's the art of training.

Q. Do you miss training?

A. Not exactly. I miss living with young people every day. I miss challenging them and I miss them because they challenged me. Now I almost always interact with people my age!

amir_keal 4 months ago
Arsenal, Netherlands 65 2789

His knowledge on football is remarkable, he is a really intelligent guy.

Emobot7 4 months ago
401 9887

Thats actually a very good article, its interesting he talk a lot about Messi in specific though. But what he say does make a lots of sense. Its too bad no team is willing to try and bring him back into the management bussiness. Feel like he could redeem himself.

paility 4 months ago
Real Madrid, France 0 10

A. One of the best is James Milner. In the Champions final he played as a defender and midfielder. It's fantastic that you can offer that at 33. And the strikers? Everyone plays for the team. Salah, Firmino and Mané work very hard in defence because Klopp wants to press. A few months ago he saw the light: he understood that pressing is not always the right thing to do. It depends on the conditions. His Dortmund was more offensive than his Liverpool, where he learned that sometimes you have to retreat a little bit, put your lines together and counter-attack. That's good for Salah, Mané and Firmino because they're very quick to take advantage of the spaces at the back of the opposing defence. Barça suffered it. I think Messi should wonder how it is possible to take so long without winning a Champions League.