This week has seen the end of an era in the world of football as legendary Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal – who had a storied managerial career that spanned almost 30 years – has announced his retirement almost 3 years after he left his final job at Manchester United.
Van Gaal’s career took him from Ajax – where he enjoyed huge success and won the UEFA Champions League in 1995 – to Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United, and he also enjoyed two stints as the manager of the Dutch national team, too.
One area that Van Gaal became hugely famed for was his faith in younger talent, and over his three decades managing at the top of the game, the Dutchman helped to launch the careers of countless top players who went on to have – or are still having – massive success in the game.
Here are 5 top players that saw their careers launched under the management of Louis Van Gaal.
#1 Marcus Rashford
While he struggled early in 2018/19 under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho, since December when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over at Manchester United, few would argue that Marcus Rashford has become the Red Devils’ key player. The England youngster is continually showing flashes of brilliance, and if he develops into a truly world-class performer as many suspect he will, he will probably owe a lot of thanks to Van Gaal.
It was in November 2015 – Van Gaal’s second season at United – when Rashford was first named on the substitutes’ bench for a game against Watford, but his debut had to wait until February 2016. Of course, it turned out to be well worth waiting for.
Thrust into the starting XI in a Europa League tie against Midtjylland after an injury to Anthony Martial in the warm-up, Rashford marked his debut with two goals – and then followed that up in United’s next game with 2 goals and an assist in a 3-2 victory over Arsenal. Weeks later at just 18 years old, he became the youngest ever goalscorer in a Manchester derby.
Since then of course, Rashford has gone from strength to strength, going to two major tournaments with England and establishing himself as an international player. This season has seen him score 9 goals and make 6 assists in the Premier League, and his last gasp penalty in United’s recent Champions League tie with Paris St. Germain allowed them to complete one of the all-time great European comebacks.
It’s no surprise then that Rashford has paid tribute to Van Gaal – the man who launched his career – in the week of his retirement.
#2 Edgar Davids
Van Gaal launched the careers of a ludicrous amount of young talent during his time as manager of Ajax from 1991 to 1997, but few players had the success that legendary Dutch midfielder Edgar Davids was able to experience throughout his storied career.
Davids began his career at Ajax as a 12-year-old, and he was handed his first team debut at the club in September 1991 at the age of 18 shortly after Van Gaal took over the reins as manager. The tough-tackling midfielder quickly established himself as a key player at the club, winning 3 Eredivisie titles in 1993/94, 1994/95 and 1995/96, and helping them to their famous UEFA Champions League victory in 1994/95.
It was Van Gaal in fact who christened Davids with his famous ‘Pitbull’ nickname, given to him for his marking ability, aggression and tenacity in the centre of midfield. And interestingly enough, once Davids departed Ajax for AC Milan in the summer of 1996, Van Gaal would last just one more season at Ajax before moving to pastures new himself.
Davids went on to massive success with Juventus – where he won the Serie A title on 3 occasions – and later at Barcelona, Inter Milan and Tottenham. And clearly, he never forgot the man who launched his career back in his Ajax days – using a comical and infamous Van Gaal quote to wish his fans a Merry Christmas during the festive period a few years ago.
#3 Andres Iniesta
Former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta won literally everything in his storied career – 9 La Liga titles and 4 UEFA Champions League titles with Barcelona, and 2 European Championships and one World Cup with Spain – and will probably go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
But few people might remember that it was Van Gaal who initially gave him his first-team chance at the Nou Camp. Van Gaal had two stints as Barcelona manager; the first, between 1997 and 2000, saw him win 2 La Liga titles, but the second, between July 2002 and January 2003 was far less successful, as he infamously fell out with star player Rivaldo and left the club hovering just 3 points above the relegation area.
Still, his introduction of Iniesta as a first team player marks one of the few successes of that second reign. Just 18 at the time, Iniesta – known as a painfully shy youngster from his time at Barca’s La Masia academy – was handed his initial 6 first team appearances by the Dutchman before he was relieved of his post in January 2003.
The following season, Iniesta appeared in 37 of Barca’s 38 league games as they won the title, and the rest is essentially history – he formed a famous midfield partnership with fellow La Masia graduate Xavi and ended up being the man who scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final.
And despite playing his most famous games under Pep Guardiola, in a 2018 interview he named Van Gaal as “my most important manager” – showing the respect he had for the legendary Dutch boss.
#4 Thomas Muller
Thomas Muller might’ve been unceremoniously dropped from the Germany national squad by boss Joachim Low recently, but a few years ago the Bayern Munich forward was one of the world’s most feared attacking players. The 2010 World Cup saw him capture the Golden Boot with 5 goals, and he added another 5 to that tally in 2014 as Germany won the famous trophy.
At Bayern Munich, Muller was equally successful – winning 7 Bundesliga titles and helping them to a UEFA Champions League victory in 2012/13. Currently in his 11th season at the club, Muller has scored 183 goals in 473 appearances for the Bavarians – and it was Louis Van Gaal who helped to launch his career a decade ago.
Muller signed his first contract for Bayern’s senior team in February 2009, but at the start of the 2009/10 season he fully expected to be sent out on loan. Instead, new boss Van Gaal showed massive faith in the 19-year-old, and he quickly embedded Muller in the first team.
And of course, Muller repaid his faith by appearing in all 34 of Bayern’s Bundesliga matches, scoring 13 goals, making 11 assists and being named as the best newcomer of the season as well as in the Bundesliga’s Team of the Season. Van Gaal famously stated that “with me, Muller will always play” – and in the Dutchman’s second and final season at the club, the youngster scored another 19 goals.
In a 2016 interview, Muller named Van Gaal as his biggest ever influence – becoming another top player to credit the legendary Dutch boss for his great successes.
#5 Clarence Seedorf
Statistically, Clarence Seedorf is one of the most successful players of all time, as he’s still the only man to win the UEFA Champions League 5 times with 3 different clubs. The Dutch midfielder captured the title with Ajax in 1994/95, Real Madrid in 1997/98 and 1999/00, and AC Milan in 2002/03 and 2006/07.
And like his fellow Ajax graduates Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert and Winston Bogarde, he had Louis Van Gaal to thank for his initial success. Beginning his career as a right-sided midfielder, Seedorf was handed his first team debut at Ajax by Van Gaal in November 1992 – at 16 years old becoming the youngest ever debutant for the club at the time.
By 1993/94, Seedorf was a key component in Van Gaal’s Ajax side, and helped them to win the Eredivisie title. A year later, he won his first Champions League title with the club as they went unbeaten in both the European competition and the Eredivisie too.
Seedorf moved to Sampdoria in the summer of 1995, marking the end of his relationship with Van Gaal, although he did play under the legendary boss for the Netherlands national team during their unsuccessful spell between 2000 and 2002.
Although Seedorf hasn’t paid tribute to Van Gaal following the announcement of his retirement this week, it was quite clear a couple of years back that he still holds his former boss in massive regard – in 2014 he described Van Gaal as a “fantastic manager” and suggested he could succeed at Manchester United, and when United sacked the Dutchman in 2016, Seedorf labelled them “crazy” for doing so.