LONDON: Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal showed his lighter side when he addressed the League Managers Association annual conference, 'lifting the lid' on his philosophy, the changes he has seen and what he really does at his work, writes Ben Rumsby
'I knew I wanted to be a coach since I was a boy'
I was a boy that was crazy for sport, crazy for football. I did all the sports that I could do. I wanted to study in sports and that's why I chose sport at the Academy of Physical Education. Already, when I was a boy, I knew I wanted to be a trainer-coach.
I lived within the region of the Ajax training ground and I watched the training sessions. All my friends were looking to the players and I was looking to the coach. It was a big difference.
At the Academy of Physical Education, I learnt a lot, and everything I learnt there, I practise now. First, I gave physical education with boys from 13 years until 20. I was not very suitable to give lessons from six to 12. I was not a patient character to go down to the child. Because you have to touch [feel empathy for] your fellow human being, so also the child.
I am the father of two beautiful daughters but until they were two or three?... [he claps hands dismissively as if to suggest he was not always there for them during this period]. But, after that, I was their man, their father! But, fortunately, they don't remember that.
I have played at the highest level in the Netherlands, until I was 32. But I was not a top player.
I know that when you analyse yourself, that you cannot be a top player. So, I knew in advance that I shall be maybe a very good trainer-coach.
'At Ajax, I bought Finidi George for pounds 3,000 - and paid it myself'
We didn't have any money and we were bankrupt, so I had to look to the youth education. We scouted [Jari] Litmanen. A Finnish player, you will buy for pounds 10,000.
We also bought Finidi George. He was a Nigerian international. He was pounds 3,000. I paid it by myself! And then, we bought also Marc Overmars. But the names that you do remember are [Clarence] Seedorf, [Patrick] Kluivert, [Michael] Reiziger. We won everything with very attacking football. I don't say it too much because otherwise Mr Scholes will be very angry! [laughs]
Barcelona president sent his son to recruit me
I said, 'I can talk with you but I don't think that is appropriate'. So, I said to the son of the president [Jose Lluis Nunez], 'I want to talk to your father'. That's not so smart. It's more or less the consequence of my personality. I was disappointed and I'm always direct and I say the things that I feel. And, sometimes, it works, but a lot of times?... But that time it worked.
The president, after three years, had to go and I was very loyal to him because he had supported me. I had extended already my contract by two years. But then, because of the politics, he has to go and I said to the president: "I go with you because I have extended because of you".
'Football is a sport of brain, and tactics'
When you see my press conferences, I'm discussing a lot my philosophy. Sometimes, the media is not very proud of it. But, sometimes, they are firmly crazy for it because I explain a lot.
It takes always a little bit of time to transfer the message. I'm also training in the brain a lot of things in the brain.
Because football is not a sport of legs, it is a sport of brain, and tactics. So, that takes also a lot of time.
All the players have to sustain that process and that is not easy. Praise is better than to be negative, it is true. But, sometimes, I'm sorry, you have to be negative also.
'I do not believe the Dutch are finished'
The Dutch are not qualified, so now [people are saying] the Dutch school is "nothing" any more. Rubbish. I do not believe in that.
I believe in the players and the chemistry between the players and the manager. When the chemistry is not there, it is a big problem.
'I have to say feedback is important to stop people calling me arrogant!'
Feedback is very important, of course. But I have to say that. Because, when I don't say that then I'm arrogant! [laughs] I am also an innovator, and I have changed a lot in terms in the way of preparing for the games. I was the first coach who was with a notebook. Now everybody is with a notebook. I was the first coach who used video.
I'm from the time where you did everything. Now, I'm the manager and I have a sports science department, I have a scouting department, I have a medical department, I have assistant managers, I have assistant coaches.
I don't do anything - nothing! I delegate. I delegate, and I earn a lot of money.
'I had to work in the night to prepare my team'
Do you remember VHS video, films? And the [machine's] counter? I was a father, I was studying, I was a teacher and I was a semi-professional player. So I had to work in the night and I had to prepare my team.
I count in the counter, '1, 2, 3, 4'. And I don't want to bore my players too much. So, 'Cut, 55; cut 325'. So, I showed the images, only those images, because the concentration is not too high when I talk for one hour.
'As a leader you have to touch people in the heart'
You have to be open, only for your fellow human being. But you have to be close with yourself as a human being and close to your principles because I think that authentic people, they shall always survive. Sometimes, I have a horrible time because I am too arrogant, I say things how they are. It's the most difficult way but you shall survive. And I think also that you touch people in the heart.
As a leader, you have to touch people, and not superficially but now in the heart.
The LMA management conference was this year focusing on what sport and business can teach each other about preparation.