Louis Van Gaal rejects 'long-ball' critics with rant, tactical charts
Besides being a generally effective manager wherever he has gone, Louis Van Gaal has also deservedly developed a reputation for his cantankerous manner in press conferences.
The Manchester United boss added another example to that dossier in classic fashion on Tuesday, responding to a pointed comment from West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce with a statistical printout and a bristling rant.
First: the backstory. Over the weekend, United struggled mightily to break down West Ham, as Daley Blind's 90th-minute equalizer rescued a 1-1 draw. To be sure, this was a disappointing result for the Red Devils. After the match, Allardyce decided it would be a good idea to compound the pain and engage Van Gaal, who has previously coached the Netherlands, Barcelona, Ajax, and Bayern Munich, in a tactical discussion.
“You might just criticize Louis Van Gaal for playing long ball as much as I’m sometimes criticized for being direct," Allardyce told reporters. "In the end we couldn’t cope with Long-ball United. It's not how you normally see United play, but it got them a goal in the end."
Why was that comment a big deal? It's pretty simple: Manchester United, with its vast resources, global brand, and big-name attacking players, are expected not just to win games, but to win them with style. West Ham, while still a big club historically in English soccer, doesn't have such lofty ambitions. Qualifying for a European competition at season's end would be seen as a triumph.
What's more, Allardyce has developed a reputation in England for ugly, "kick the ball long and run" tactics. To be fair, those tactics have been effective for Allardyce in the past, and he seems to have moved beyond it; West Ham has played some really good-looking stuff this season. But Allardyce accusing Manchester United of employing such a hamfisted approach didn't sit well with Van Gaal, who delivered a press conference for the ages.
Reporter: "This is the first time we have spoken to you since Sam Allardyce said you were a 'long-ball' side. How do you feel about that?"
Van Gaal: "What do you think? What is your opinion?"
Reporter: "My opinion doesn't count for anything."
Van Gaal: "And that's enough? You have seen the match? You have your opinion. When a colleague of me is saying this kind of thing then, yeah, you have to see the data and you have to put the data in the right context, I believe. And I think media is also coming to the match and you have a lot of opinion about me, or about the game, or about the players and now you say that you have no opinion.
Belittle the question first, then answer it in excruciating detail. A strong start by Van Gaal. He went on.
"Now because I expected this question, I have made an interpretation of the data of this game and then I have to say that it is not good interpretation of Big Sam. It is not so difficult also to read that. So I am sorry, we are playing ball possession play after 70 minutes we did not succeed, in spite of many chances in the second half, then I changed my play style.
That's when, in a move worthy of Planet Futbol's own tactician Liviu Bird, Van Gaal produced the paperwork.
"So I give you this (points at pamphlet) and you can see that also the blue ones (arrows) are the good ones because long balls are mostly very difficult, that is why I began with the explanation of ball possession. When you have 60 percent ball possession you cannot play long balls only. So again, they did it 71 and we 49 percent, and I give it you, you can copy it and then you go to Big Sam and maybe he can give a good interpretation."
(Van Gaal gets up and hands pamphlet to reporter)
Here's what those pamphlets looked like:
And here's the Manchester United press officer's priceless reaction upon actually handing out these reports after Van Gaal's rant:
Manchester United takes on Burnley at 2:45 ET on Wednesday.