Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal, more commonly refered to as Louis van Gaal, is one of the greatest Dutch coaches in the world of football today. A fully qualified teacher of gymnastics, Louis van Gaal began his playing career at RKSV De Meer.
Louis van Gaal began his playing career at a small club, but moved to Ajax at the age of 20. Only managing to make the second team, Louis van Gaal never broke into the first team at the famous Dutch giants. In a team that had the likes of Johan Cruijff and Johan Neeskens, it was unlikely that van Gaal would make the grade.
Throughout his career, van Gaal was just an average player and even though he signed for Royal Antwerp, Telstar and Sparta Rotterdam, he was known more for his understanding of the game than playing skills.
Most of his playing days were spent at Rotterdam where van Gaal slowly got into the mould of a coach, and out of that of a player.
In 1986, van Gaal became Leo Beenhakker’s assistant coach at AZ Alkmaar. In 1991, as Beenhakker left the club, van Gaal took over. At the end of the 1991 season, van Gaal began his actual coaching spree, with Ajax.
In 1991, after ending a year at AZ Alkmaar, Louis van Gaal moved to Ajax to begin the first of his many successful seasons as a top-flight coach. From 1991 to 1997, van Gaal stayed at the helm of Ajax football club and in 1994, 95 and 96, won three consecutive Eredivisie titles in a row. This came at the back of a UEFA Cup triumph in 1992 and the KNVB Cup title in 1993. Van Gaal also won the Johan Cruijff Sheild for three consecutive seasons, starting in 1993, through till 1995. In 1995, Ajax also beat defending champions AC Milan in the finals of the 1995 UEFA Champions League. Later in the same year, they went on to win the Intercontinental Cup/Toyota Cup, by beating Gremio to the title.
In 1996, Ajax again went to the finals of the Champions League, only to lose to Juventus on penalties.
Louis van Gaal had built the entire Ajax team primarily from youth squad members. The team was so good that the entire Dutch national team had around 9 players, in the first eleven, from the Ajax first eleven.
At the end of his Ajax contract, van Gaal was awarded the Order of the Orange-Nassau, the Dutch equivalent of knighthood.
The Blaugrana & Oranje Years
Between 1997 and 2000, Louis van Gaal continued the long standing tradition of Dutch coaches at FC Barcelona. He had his tiffs with the media and players, especially with Rivaldo who van Gaal wanted to play on the wing. The player, however, was adamant on his central position. Along with this, van Gaal had numerous other run-ins with the media regarding his coaching philosophies.
Despite everything, van Gaal did manage to win two league titles, in 1997-98 and 1998-99, along with a Spanish Cup as well.
The Dutch turned to Louis van Gaal for the national team job, hoping to get a good result. However, van Gaal failed miserably as the Dutch failed to qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Van Gaal returned to Barcelona but for just half-a-year. His short spell quickly got over and Radomir Antic took over the Catalan side.
In 2004, van Gaal decided to return home and joined Ajax as their technical director. However, a year later, he was on his way out primarily due to an internal conflict with the board members. It was decided that in 2005, he would replace Co Adriaanse as the manager at AZ Alkmaar.
In 2006-07, van Gaal took the club to third place in the Eredivisie, just three points behind the league winners PSV Eindhoven and second-placed Ajax. They also reached the finals of the KNVB cup but finished second. Their Champions League spot was lost to Ajax in a 4-2 aggregate loss.
In 2008-09, van Gaal stayed on with AZ to prove that the players had a chance to prove themselves at the highest level. The season began with two losses to NAC Breda and ADO Den Haag however they then began an unbeaten run that saw them go until 18th April 2009, without losing a game. They had the best defensive record in the league and the second-highest goal scoring record thanks to Mounir El Hamdaoui and Ari.
A day later, AZ were crowned champions despite their unexpected loss to Vitesse a day earlier. This was primarily because Ajax, who still had a mathematical chance of beating them, lost to PSV Eindhoven (2-6) on the same day.
At the end of the season van Gaal was asked to join Bayern Munich to stem the rot that had brought the club to some of its poorest results in history. Van Gaal refered to it as his dream job and went about making things right. The start to the season was hardly ideal. Van Gaal’s Bayern won just one of the 4 games at the start, mounting speculation on his capabilities.
Van Gaal stuck to the theory that his form of training requires time and that Bayern would come around. He brought in Arjen Robben from Real Madrid, while a feud with Luca Toni saw the striker being loaned out to AS Roma.
With numerous in-fighting rumours coming out and with Bayern on the verge of being thrown out of the Champions League group stage, it all came down to the final group stage game against Juventus, in Turin. A loss would mean elimination from the tournament and possibly the exit of van Gaal as well.
However, Bayern came alive that night and lit Turin up with a 4-1 win over the Italian giants.
Van Gaal kept his job and Bayern swiftly moved into the semi-finals of the German Cup as well. In March, Bayern went to the top of the league table, ahead of Bayer Leverkusen. In the same month, they qualified for the finals of the German Cup, beating Schalke.
Less than two months later, Bayern Munich were crowned champions of Germany in the League and a week later, won the German Cup. Van Gaal’s team also reached the finals of the UEFA Champions League, meeting Jose Mourinho, a former assistant coach, in the finals.
Inter Milan beat Bayern by 2 goals to nil, denying the van Gaal the treble while getting one themselves, in the process. Van Gaal won the 2010 Manager of the year award in Germany to become the first non-German to do so.
Bayern Munich are expected to extend his contract at the club.