“He’s a genius”. “A masterpiece”. “Our saviour”. “The miracle man”. These were just some of the words used to describe Louis van Gaal in the Dutch press following Holland’s quarterfinal victory over Costa Rica.
In Dutch offices, many employees have a screensaver on their computer screens of the Christ the Redeemer statue with van Gaal’s head on it.
There is an online poll asking who is the best coach of the national team ever. van Gaal is winning it even though he has only reached the semifinal, while other coaches (Ernst Happel, Rinus Michels, Bert van Marwijk) got to the final.
Things have changed quite a bit in Holland over the last few weeks. In February Hugo Borst, an influential journalist and former friend of van Gaal, published a book called Oh, Louis in which he, and some of his sources, put him down as a narcissist.
It is a common perception. In the popular Dutch football programme, VI Oranje, the pundits went as far as describing him as a complete nutcase before the tournament had started.
Did we — fans, media, experts in Holland — expect this? Not in a million years.
When it was clear the midfielder Kevin Strootman (AS Roma) would miss the World Cup, his injury was treated as a national disaster. Some blogs suggested the “selection of babies” were going to get hammered by Spain, Chile, maybe even by Australia.
Before the tournament started van Gaal then decided to change the system to 5-3-2. That was like cursing in a Dutch church, for our football bible decrees we should always attack and play with wingers. Dutch fans don’t want a team that waits and counterattacks. That’s for Germans, Italians and Belgians.
According to another pre-tournament poll, only five per cent of the 17m population believed we could reach the final again. The sensational opening game against Spain changed the whole atmosphere. Viewing rates and social media exploded.
Suddenly the Dutch have got their Dutch courage back. People are already looking forward to the final against Germany and taking revenge for 1974 (the national trauma of losing 2-1).
We know our big neighbour has more experience, more quality, more stamina, play better football; it seems like a hopeless mission. But everybody has faith. “Because we have Louis, the miracle man.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014