Linked earlier this year with a potential move to take charge of Tottenham Hotspur, the dismissal this week of David Moyes at Manchester United now sees the 62-year-old as the favourite in the frame to take charge of the soon-to-be disposed Premier League champions.
It’ll be a busy summer for his agent, that’s the only certainty at present but with all the commotion over the man who will lead the Netherlands national team out in Brazil at the World Cup. So is he really the footballing messiah he is hailed as?
His CV speaks for itself; whilst he wasn’t a huge icon as a player, the Amsterdam-born former midfielder of Ajax, Sparta Rotterdam and AZ became an assistant coach at AZ, then Ajax before graduating to the head coach in 1991 in the Dutch capital.
It was at Ajax he won the game's top honour; leading a team of stars to win the 1995 Champions League Final, a team with Edwin van der Sar in goal and Patrick Kluivert up front.
He moved to take over from Sir Bobby Robson at Barcelona in 1997 before taking on his first spell in charge of the Dutch national team in 2000, returning to Barcelona for one season in 2002 and then staying four years at AZ. He enjoyed a successful spell in charge of Bayern Munich before taking up his current position back with the Netherlands.
Along with his elder Johan Cruyff, he is considered one of the founding fathers and philosophers of the modern era of football in Europe. Total football was by no means his invention (it was actually first implemented as a concept by the Scottish against the English) but Van Gaal was certainly one of its finest practitioners and craftsmen in the 1990s and through to the new millennium.
He has never stayed at one club as a manager for more than four years (with AZ) and has averaged periods of two years in the club positions he has held over his career. The major reason for this may be his personality – he is unequivocal when it comes to his authority and his implementation of his ideas at a club and has fallen out with players, club directors and owners as well as the press and media at a number of his previous clubs.
“Friends of the press. I am leaving. Congratulations,” were his final words after his first spell in Catalonia where he won two La Liga titles after winning the Champions League and domestic titles at Ajax.
During that time, he had a well documented disagreement with Brazilian forward Rivaldo whom Van Gaal insisted would play as a winger despite the player’s wish to be deployed as a centre-forward leading to Rivaldo to state:
“He does not like to listen to the opinions of the players.”
His major difference compared to Cruyff’s model of total football is that Cruyff encouraged and brought to fruition individuals where as Van Gaal’s ideology is all about the team, the whole rather than the parts. The machine as a unit in which no player is more or less important than another and the most important thing of all is the team’s functionality together.
"Football is a team sport, and the members of the team are therefore dependent on each other. If certain players do not carry out their tasks properly on the pitch, then their colleagues will suffer,” as the man himself explained it.
“This means that each player has to carry out his basic tasks to the best of his ability, and this requires a disciplined approach on the pitch. In my opinion this can only be achieved if there is discipline off the pitch.”
He expects his players to be disciplined off the pitch and in every aspect of their lives. Anywhere he signs, you can be sure there will be zero tolerance for clubbing and drinking sessions or misbehaviour in general. That is an instant deal-breaker for him and players will be out of the team and the club before they know what’s hit them if they break his rules.
This is largely due to his unashamed egotism – if you think his former pupil and assistant at Barcelona, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho is a loudmouth, you ain’t seen nothing yet, as they say.
"I am who I am: confident, arrogant, dominant, honest, hard-working and innovative," were the words used by Van Gaal to describe himself during his first press-conference as manager of Bayern Munich in 2009.
He enjoyed his most recent success with the Bundesliga giants. The former Barcelona coach and player was in fact one of Van Gaal’s players and, along with Xavi, played a pivotal role in Van Gaal’s Barcelona team. Van Gaal was the one to suggest a very Bastian Schweinsteiger take on that role converting the German international from a winger after bringing him and Thomas Muller through the youth system to the first team.
The machine-like style with which Bayern Munich have played still survived past Van Gaal’s reign and you can see that efficient and disciplined yet attractive and attacking style he fostered still evident now.
Not only at the current European champions but still at Ajax and the Netherlands, of course, Barcelona, and his influence can be seen in the current Liverpool setup under Brendan Rodgers.
"Running is for animals. You need a brain and a ball for football," he stated once. This is in short form the very essence of total football even back to it’s very first trial as a concept; retaining possession and moving the ball, passing, rather than direct play is the most efficient and effective way to win a football match.
It ensures his team dictates the play and save energy so they can beat the opposition late in the game instead of chasing the ball, if they have possession it limits the opposition’s chances to score and passing the ball around drags the opposition out of their positions chasing which creates space and holes to exploit and create scoring opportunities.
He is also a huge advocate of bringing through young players. He picks his teams on merit, rather than reputation and his ideal club model is where the majority of the team consists of players who have been developed at the club. He is not an advocate of big spending particularly but he has brought in quality players, such as Arjen Robben, when necessary.
His preferred formation is 4-3-3 but he, like Guardiola in his image, adapts that formation to suit the weaknesses of the opposition accordingly, depending whether the opposition plays with one or two up front, predominantly.
Is the fuss and talk over Louis van Gaal all it’s cracked up to be? In a word, yes. The club that signs him this summer with benefit tremendously from his presence but they shouldn’t expect him to stay for long.
It won’t always be plain sailing and you can be sure he will upset a few people but, overall, the arrival of Louis van Gaal makes for exciting times at a football club. It means the club are about to embark on ascension and they will be driven towards excellence until his work is done when he’ll leave but his mark will remain.