Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal went on the offensive on Thursday, defending his tactics, reputation and past history as he sparred with reporters in another bellicose performance ahead of his country’s FIFA World Cup quarterfinal against Argentina.
At a news conference on the eve of the last eight clash, the veteran coach continued his long-running spat with Dutch journalists, critical of his tactics at the World Cup in Qatar and quick to provoke the 71-year-old.
Van Gaal’s decision to abandon the traditional Dutch attacking approach and employ a counter-attack strategy has put many of his compatriots’ backs up but he continued to insist he had the best tactics to win a World Cup.
“I get the same question from you every time but you don’t understand that football is evolving,” he said in a tone of exasperation when asked whether he preferred coaching the old Dutch way, as he did earlier in his career, or the more pragmatic counter-attacking, result-orientated approach he now employs.
“It’s a lot harder now to play attacking football than it was 20 years ago when I was coach of Ajax. When I came up with that more defensive system in 2014 (at the World Cup in Brazil), I also received a lot of criticism but now half the world plays like that. Football has evolved towards it.
“At this World Cup we see that the results are very tight, even between big teams and supposedly smaller countries, because compact defending is simply easier than attacking. But it’s not true if it seems we are only defending. I hope that is clear now.”
Van Gaal’s exchanges with the Dutch media mix acidic irritation with efforts at cutting humour, plus increasingly a refusal to answer questions he feels are intended to goad him.
“Brazil does almost the same as the Dutch national team,” Van Gaal continued.
“They have great technical players and sometimes they run away with the result, but other times they can be mediocre and unattractive. But that does not mean Brazil aren’t performing here, I’ve said before, Brazil are the top favourites in my eyes. We are also a country that has a chance to become world champions because I hope we are the best team.”
He also defended himself from comments made by Angel di Maria, who played under Van Gaal at Manchester United and could feature for Argentina on Friday. Di Maria labelled Van Gaal the worst coach he had worked with.
“Angel Di Maria is a very good footballer who, when he played at Manchester (United), had a lot of problems in his private life, including having his house broken into. That influenced his form in that year. Calling me the worst coach? He’s one of very few players who’ve said that. Mostly it is the opposite,” he said.
Van Gaal is set to retire after the World Cup but said he might be tempted to work a little longer if the right challenge came along.
“You can never say never. But I am 71 now … but I still look like a God!” he concluded, bursting into laughter before exiting the stage.