The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Dutch veteran Louis van Gaal to bring experience, winning ways to Manchester United
THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Knowledgeable, opinionated, vastly experienced and sometimes prickly.
Sounds like Alex Ferguson, but the description also fits the man taking over at ailing Manchester United a year after the Scot retired.
Louis van Gaal is, like Ferguson, first and foremost a winner.
The 62-year-old Dutchman has secured league titles in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany as coach of storied clubs Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, giving him far more experience at the very top of European football than his ill-fated predecessor at Old Trafford, David Moyes.
His appointment by United comes nearly two decades after what is seen as Van Gaal's crowning glory, leading a talented Ajax team to the 1995 Champions League title. The scorer against AC Milan in Vienna was Patrick Kluivert, one of the many youngsters the former physical education teacher nurtured at Ajax who went on to become stars of European football.
During his successful period at Ajax in the 1990s, when he won three straight league titles as well as the Champions League and 1992 UEFA Cup, Van Gaal was sometimes perceived as arrogant and authoritarian and he did little to hide his annoyance at some reporters who followed the team.
In a famous 1996 tirade, he responded to a journalist's question by asking him: "Am I the one who's so smart, or are you so stupid?"
And Van Gaal gave the English media a taste of what is to come when they descended on him at a Netherlands training camp two weeks ago. When a BBC reporter asked him what he knew about Manchester United, he snapped back by saying: "That's a stupid question, I think. It's a stupid question."
Van Gaal was lured to Barcelona after his successes with Ajax and immediately won back-to-back league titles and spotted the potential in a young coach called Jose Mourinho.
The one major blot on his career came when he succeeded Frank Rijkaard as the Netherlands coach in 2000 and the team failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan — despite losing only two of the 14 internationals during his first tenure as national coach, which ended with his resignation in 2001.
After an unsuccessful return to Barcelona and another spell at Ajax, this time as technical director, Van Gaal again underscored his talent for bringing the best out of players when, in 2009, he led underdog Dutch club AZ Alkmaar to its first domestic league title in 30 years.
That success earned him another top job, this time at Bayern Munich, where he again proved he can lead star-studded teams by guiding Munich to the Champions League final and a domestic league and cup double.
Van Gaal joined the Dutch national team for the second time following its first-round exit from the 2012 European Championship and led it undefeated through qualification for the World Cup in Brazil, where the three-time losing finalist faces Spain, Chile and Australia in a tough Group B.
Van Gaal favours the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 system and says his teams enjoy playing it, too.
"It is an attacking philosophy and it's a technical philosophy ... so you can show your qualities more than ever," he told FIFA in an interview last year. "You have to play as a team and not as an individual."
The system may not be as familiar in the Premier League, but Van Gaal's insistence that the team is more important than any one player sounds a lot like Ferguson.
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