If any doubting Manchester United fans needed convincing that Louis van Gaal is the right man for the Old Trafford hot seat, they received adamant affirmation on Sunday.
One nil down with eighty-eight minutes on the clock, having played poorly throughout, the Dutch comeback was eerily reminiscent of many of the famous victories United claimed from the jaws of defeat during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign.
Van Gaal typified the conviction and drive the Scot displayed in abundance over the years by making crucial changes and tellingly, delivering a rousing team talk during the second half water break. His close relationship with Dutch captain Robin van Persie has been well documented throughout the course of the tournament, but when necessity dictated a change, van Gaal wasn’t shy about hauling his star man off.
He can feel more than vindicated by doing so. Direct replacement Klaas Jan Huntelaar provided the important assist for Wesley Sneijder’s equalising goal and then showed nerves of steel to confidently convert the winning penalty deep into injury time.
His impact evoked memories of Teddy Sheringham’s contribution to the 1999 Champions League Final. A goal and an assist was exactly what the former England international produced when summoned from the bench in Barcelona, in a match famous for Ferguson’s refusal to settle for extra time, once United had found a miraculous equalizer. Even Fergie himself will be impressed by van Gaal’s performance on the sideline yesterday.
The manner of the Dutch win adds to what has been an exciting week for United fans. The big money signings of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw heralded the official beginning of a new era at Old Trafford and with the promise of further new arrivals, last season’s disastrous capitulation can be consigned to history.
United have never been a club to dwell on the past and with van Gaal only enhancing his already outstanding reputation at the World Cup, fans of the club can look forward with real optimism.
One speculated target, whose arrival would surely be welcomed by the majority of United supporters, is Arjen Robben. In his country’s time of need yesterday, the Bayern Munich man stood up and took responsibility, especially when van Persie departed.
Wearing the captain’s armband, he consistently demanded possession and drew the foul from Rafael Marquez for the injury time penalty. Ferguson always had one man to look towards in such situations. Be it Bryan Robson, Roy Keane or Cristiano Ronaldo, there was always a player in a red jersey leading the fight. Just as Holland displayed yesterday, all ten others would row in behind.
But of course, for a team to keep fighting in adversity, when hope of salvaging a result is fading, they must want to do so for the coach. If there is not complete respect for the manager, it is easy to throw in the towel. United know this all too well from the ill-fated Moyes era.
It was obvious to all onlookers that the onetime ‘Chosen One’ was not looked on with the same adoration that Ferguson always commanded. His simply did not have the charisma or personality of a van Gaal, which contributed greatly to his downfall.
United fans can now be confident that the same will not happen this time around. Robben last week stated that van Gaal must have a ‘golden willie’. A strange comment by any standards but one which illustrated just how highly the Dutch players regard their manager.
Even if the likes of Phil Jones would never dream of making such a statement, you can be sure that he and all the United players will be committed to playing for their new coach at Old Trafford next season. If the Dutch keep displaying the same heart and determination for the remainder of the tournament, it might even be for a World Cup winning coach. The next two weeks will tell all.
Brian Ryle, Pundit Arena.