Van Gaal praises his side’s united front

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal has drawn attention for his tactical surprises but a rare unity among his players has forged a sense the World Cup could finally be theirs.

Sport360 staff
by Sport360 staff
7th July 2014

article:7th July 2014

Netherlands united: The Dutch players celebrate after beating Costa Rica on penalties, in contrast to previous teams that have been riven by poor morale.
Netherlands united: The Dutch players celebrate after beating Costa Rica on penalties, in contrast to previous teams that have been riven by poor morale.

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal has drawn attention for his tactical surprises but a rare unity among his players has forged a sense the World Cup could finally be theirs.

While in-fighting has marked previous campaigns, team spirit is clear in the current squad – and is testament to the man-management of the Manchester United-bound boss.


After knocking out Costa Rica on penalties to reach the semifinals, Van Gaal said he had never seen such a sense of responsibility among players during his long career.

“Portugal was a fantastic training camp and that really helped merge the group,” he said. “I haven’t checked up on them once.

“It’s not about me, it’s not about the staff, it’s about the players taking responsibility. When I compare that to the other teams I have worked with, it's incredibly strong."

Such collectivism could make the difference as the Dutch aim to finally lift the World Cup after being runners-up in 1974, 1978 and 2010.

European championships in 1996, 2004 and 2012 have been low-points for Dutch harmony, with managers repeatedly failing to unite richly talented but ego-dominated squads.

But in Brazil, players have lined up to sing the praises of Van Gaal, and each other, after their five consecutive wins over Spain, Australia, Chile, Mexico and Costa Rica.

Van Gaal says senior players Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt have taken charge and been his voice in what is otherwise a youthful group.

“Compared with the atmosphere at Euro 2012, it’s night and day,” said Sneijder. “I had my doubts before the tournament but they disappeared very quickly.”

The current harmony contrasts with Euro 1996, when Edgar Davids clashed with coach Guus Hiddink, and the 1994 World Cup which Ruud Gullit skipped over a row with boss Dick Advocaat.

The golden generation of Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp and Clarence Seedorf was not able to win any titles, and in 2004, Davids was also in conflict with Advocaat. And at Euro 2012, Rafael van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar both spoke openly of divisions.

Fast forward to the present day, and Van Gaal is able to play Kuyt at wing-back and still win praise from the veteran forward.

The aftermath of his masterstroke against Costa Rica was telling. At the end of extra-time, Van Gaal substituted goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for penalties specialist Tim Krul.

When Krul saved two spot-kicks to put the Netherlands into the semi-finals, the first player to race across the pitch and offer his congratulations was, of course, Cillessen.


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