DOHA, Qatar — Louis van Gaal was at his entertaining best ahead of the Netherlands’ World Cup quarterfinal clash with Argentina, as he admitted he was sad at Angel Di Maria’s criticism of him, revealed his love for Memphis Depay and also gave a cryptic answer on the team’s plans to fight Lionel Messi.
The Netherlands meet Argentina on Friday at Lusail Stadium in Qatar for a spot in the final four. It will give Van Gaal a chance for personal revenge after his Dutch side lost in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup to Argentina. The outspoken boss will also have a meeting with one of his former players — Argentina’s Di Maria.
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Di Maria was at Manchester United back in the 2014-15 season under Van Gaal, who managed the club from 2014-2016. But the Argentina forward lasted just one season at the club, despite United splashing out £59.7 million on his signing. Later in his career, Di Maria told TyC Sports: « My problem at Manchester was the coach. Van Gaal was the worst of my career. »
Di Maria is an injury doubt for Friday’s clash, but Van Gaal was asked about his former player and the criticism leveled in his direction.
« Angel di Maria is simply a really good football player, » Van Gaal said. « At the time in Manchester, he had a lot of personal issues — there was a break-in at his house — and that affected his fitness that year.
« So the fact that he’d refer to me as a worst trainer — that’s one of the few players who would say that — that’s sad, I don’t like it that he said it, it’s a pity, unfortunate. But that’s just the way it is — a head coach needs to make decisions that don’t always end well. »
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Van Gaal was conducting the news conference sitting next to Memphis Depay, the Netherlands forward. Van Gaal signed Depay for United in 2015, but said their relationship was far from rosy all the time, especially when he dropped Depay for the 2016 FA Cup Final.
But Van Gaal said the two now get on well, with Depay his starting striker here in Qatar.
« Memphis also played [in] Manchester — and now we kiss each other, mouth to mouth — we’re not going to do that now, » Van Gaal said, laughing.
« That’s how things pan out — in football, people are laughing now, but Memphis — I didn’t field Memphis for the final, that’s not nice — a head coach doesn’t do things without reason and it may well have been the wrong decision, but just look at how we deal with each other now! »
Depay was asked for his views on Van Gaal’s managerial style, and said: « Our head coach shows character and a sense of humour, and people appreciate it.
« We haven’t lost a game yet and our discipline in the team has tightened up when he arrived, which is important in a tournament. Everybody knows his vision, character, and that’s one of his biggest qualities to build a team. He’s a coach who’s very clear, he has a vision that’s clear to him and he brings it over to the group clearly. »
Meanwhile, Van Gaal confirmed he has been in touch with another former player, Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has been giving him advice on how to beat Argentina in knockout football after he was part of the Germany squad that won the 2014 final against Messi and Co.
But while Van Gaal smiled as he spoke about Schweinsteiger, he gave other questions short shrift. He dismissed suggestions he could instruct players where to shoot if the match heads to penalties, saying « that’s a ridiculous, nonsensical question, » and also dodged a question on his side’s plans for Messi.
« We’re not going to reveal our tactics to you as that’d be stupid to reveal, » Van Gaal added. « You want to block and close the pass lines [to Messi]. I don’t think there’s too much hoo-hah about this. »
He added: « Argentina in my view is a top country with top players in their selection. The tournament is starting tomorrow for real, for us. Although I don’t want to downplay the countries we’ve beaten, Argentina is a different country to the ones we have played. »
Van Gaal will step away from the Netherlands team after the World Cup, with Ronald Koeman succeeding him. Sources have told ESPN they expect this to be Van Gaal’s final managerial job, but the man himself is refusing to rule out taking on another challenge.
He said he had taken inspiration from Dick Advocaat, 75, who has tried to retire from football previously, but is back in management at Eerste Divisie side ADO Den Haag.
« I’ll stop being head coach [of the Netherlands after the World Cup], » Van Gaal said. « I’m only doing this for the country, it’s an emergency situation.
« [But afterwards] never say never as we have a wonderful example — Dick Advocaat. He’s older than I am and recently he took on a job, in the second level [of Dutch football].
« If I’m presented with a wonderful challenge, if there’s a country that’s a marvelous challenge it could well be that I continue to work as a coach for a bit. I am 71 years old, I look marvelous and incredibly young. »