On Wednesday I highlight noteworthy new sports books, with links to reviews, interviews and other information about the subject and/or author.
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A disastrous season at Manchester United saw David Moyes, Sir Alex Ferguson’s hand-picked successor, sacked last April after only 10 months on the job.
Even Ray Perkins had more time stepping in Bear Bryant’s shoes at Alabama. Ditto for Gene Bartow following John Wooden at UCLA. Coming in after a legend has never been easy, but at Old Trafford, what transpired in 2013-14 was as shocking as it was unusual.
Indeed, Moyes’ ouster was the stuff of the chaotic Brazilian domestic scene, with its constant, merry-go-round managerial spinning, not one of the world’s richest sports clubs boasting 13 titles in the lucrative English Premier League.
This was a thoroughly unacceptable state of affairs, and required the arrival of a strong, domineering personality to marshal what’s still considered a talent base capable of getting back on top.
Enter Louis van Gaal, whose appointment was announced before he took the Dutch to the World Cup. His quintessential moment of the summer was subbing out his starting goalkeeper, Jasper Cillessen, right before a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals. Back-up keeper Tim Krul, in his only action of the tournament, saved two Costa Rican spot kicks as The Netherlands reached the semifinals.
Van Gaal’s dull tactics backfired against Leo Messi in Argentina, but that’s Louis, as Dutch author Maarten Meijer explains in “Louis Van Gaal: The Biography,” which has been published in Europe and goes to press in the United States in November (the link is to the available e-book form).
What Man United fans can come to expect may be just as unpredictable as what van Gaal, 62, has demonstrated in his accomplished, if sometimes bizarre coaching career. On Saturday, his first game in charge of the Red Devils is the Premier League season opener against Swansea City.
He’s already named the volatile, but vital, Wayne Rooney as his captain, and has played brutal head games in pre-season camp with players who don’t perform. Van Gaal has coldly suggested to several others to get lost.
But van Gaal also is the architect of successful revivals at already-venerable European clubs, most notably Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
“His first taste of the job he dreamed of as manager of his own country ended in failure with a Dutch squad that imploded and failed even to qualify for the World Cup in 2002.
“Even then, in his own mind, that failure was the fault of the players and not him. ‘Some of the players refused to accept my methods,’ he said. ‘I am who I am and I have my own ways. I’m not going to change and I have no desire to.’
“In 2009, when he started work at Bayern Munich and results took time to come, it was reported that he had been heard going round the dressing room insisting: ‘I am like God. I never get ill and I am always right.’ A few months later, Van Gaal put the record straight. ‘I am not God,’ he said. ‘If I were God I would win everything all the time.’
“At Old Trafford they will have to get used to that.”
Brian Phillips recently penned a rollicking piece for Grantland on van Gaal, noting how he’s stepping into a very different challenge than what he’s taken on before:
“The move to Manchester represents easily the biggest cultural dimension shift of van Gaal’s career, the first time he’s been at a club that wasn’t either Dutch, accustomed to near-continual managerial turnover, or both. Apart from a tendency to turn purple and bellow at 22-year-olds, there’s just nothing in his background that fits with the Alex Ferguson model of long-term dictatorial stability. Ferguson was a company man with a temper; van Gaal has a temper that lays waste to companies. Ferguson cared only about winning and knew how to subordinate all his rougher impulses to that priority. Van Gaal wants to win, but he also needs the credit. He’s being welcomed by United fans as a savior figure, which makes sense in the postapocalyptic crater left behind by David Moyes. But if things go wrong — well, there’s simply no precedent at Manchester United for the Louis van Gaal brand of wrongness. It’s so much wronger than what anyone knows to expect.”