A couple of days ago, manager and coach Louis van Gaal announced his retirement from management. The Dutchman managed European superpowers in his time, which included the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich and his last managerial stint came at Old Trafford where he left last season after securing the Old Trafford outfit that elusive FA Cup.
Despite having his fair share of critics in the past few years and not finding astounding success everywhere, the fact remains that van Gaal is one of the greatest coaches of the modern era and should be respected and remembered as such.
From the likes of Luis Figo to Dennis Bergkamp, the 65-year-old has managed some of the biggest names in football and here, we make a combined XI of his best players ever, and much like the man loved, this team is in a 3-5-2 formation:
Goalkeeper: Edwin van der Sar
One of the easiest choices on this list, the legendary keeper was part of Ajax’s golden generation of players when van Gaal took over the club in 1991 and he won the Champions League under the manager.
van der Sar is one of the greatest keepers of this era and his shot stopping abilities are still talked about by fans. Although most famously remembered for his stint with Manchester United, the Dutchman was a brilliant keeper with Ajax and is arguably the greatest keeper van Gaal has ever managed and developed.
(Video Courtesy: GE production YouTube Channel)
LCB: Philipp Lahm
Lahm was once described by Pep Guardiola as “the most intelligent player I have ever coached.” Such high praise from a brilliant manager only goes on to show what a player the World Cup winning German captain is.
Still playing at the top level and now widely considered as one of the greatest full-backs of all time. Lahm’s versatility and intelligence means that he can fit anywhere in the back four and was an ever-present figure in van Gaal’s tenure with Bayern where he won a Bundesliga and lost the Champions League final. Another easy inclusion into this list.
(Video Courtesy: BayernCompHD YouTube Channel)
CB: Danny Blind
As aforementioned, van Gaal loved to play a 3-man defence that was flexible and as such, needed certain defenders who would suit his style. At Manchester United, the system failed horribly at times, but at Ajax, it flourished, and Danny Blind was one of the reasons why.
Although already a regular by the time van Gaal took over, Blind became a key figure in his manager’s team and achieved his career’s best honours under his guidance as he went on to win the Champions League.
(Video Courtesy: AFC Ajax YouTube Channel)
RCB: Frank de Boer
Three out of the four players in this brilliant defence are from Ajax, and deservingly so, seeing how brilliant this team actually was.
Frank de Boer is the third in the list of most appearances in Netherlands’ history and the simple reason for that is he was amazing at what he did. Although primarily a left-back, De Boer excelled at the sweeper role and his presence in Ajax’s defence was crucial for their success.
Simply one of the best players van Gaal ever managed and he completes the back 3.
(Video Courtesy: Barcelona YouTube Channel)
Defensive midfielder: Frank Rijkaard
Although Rijkaard was not as good at Ajax in his second spell as he was with them in his first, the simple fact of the matter is that he is one of, if not the greatest defensive midfielders of all time and excluding him from this team would be idiotic.
Rijkaard made just over 60 appearances for Ajax after van Gaal brought him back and formed the defensive back core of the team alongside Danny Blind as Ajax became the undefeated champions of Netherlands in the 1994-95 season.
The midfielder was integral in their Champions League victory too and retired from playing soon afterwards.
(Video Courtesy: onlygoalburns YouTube Channel)
Central midfielder: Edgar Davids
Unlike Rijkaard, who spent his final years under van Gaal, Davids became a phenomenon under the management of the Dutch mastermind and is now regarded as one of the best midfielders ever.
Davids was nicknamed “Pitbull” by van Gaal due to his marking ability, aggression and hard tackling style of play. The midfielder would go on to enjoy a stellar career even after leaving Ajax but even he would attribute some of his overall success to van Gaal as his guidance was so important in Davids’ growth.
A definite entry on to this list because well, he is Edgar Davids.
(Video Courtesy: Goden Zoon YouTube Channel)
Attacking midfielder: Rivaldo
One of the greatest players of this era; one of the greatest players of any era. The 1999 Balon d'Or winner slides into this team easily.
Rivaldo was a genuine phenomenon on the field and in his peak, there was no attacking midfielder that could match him. Named in the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team in 1998 and 2002, a World Cup winner, Brazil’s seventh highest goalscorer, an inductee into the Brazilian Football Museum Hall of Fame – Rivaldo has achieved pretty much everything there is to achieve.
A versatile midfielder known for his ability to both score and create goals, a case can be made that he was quite simply the best player van Gaal ever managed. It’s that simple.
(Video Courtesy: HeilRJ 2ND YouTube Channel)
Right midfielder: Luis Figo
While Figo may not be remembered fondly by Barcelona fans, the fact remains that this Ballon d’Or winning midfielder is one of the best players of the last two decades.
The Portuguese attacker played under van Gaal in his first stint with Barcelona, and was one part of a famous Barcelona attack that include Rivaldo. Known for his creativity and dribbling ability, Figo at Barcelona was a phenomenal player (which is why Real Madrid came calling and broke the then transfer record for him), and on his day the Portuguese was nigh unstoppable.
(Video Courtesy: FIGAWY YouTube Channel)
Left midfielder: Arjen Robben
The second Bayern player on this list, Robben joined the Bavarians in the same year as van Gaal and he hit the ground running in his very first season.
Crowned Footballer of The Year in Germany in 2010 thanks to his impressive form, he helped his team to win the Bundesliga and the DFB Pokal Cup (where he scored two goals in the final).
Despite not being as good in the following season due to injury, Robben is still one of the best players coached by van Gaal and is now considered as one of the greatest wingers of all time. He completes this terrifying midfield.
(Video Courtesy: JavierNathaniel YouTube Channel)
Second striker: Dennis Bergkamp
The “Non-Flying Dutchman” as he is lovingly called by the Arsenal faithful, Dennis Bergkamp was one of the most elegant players on the pitch.
Bergkamp played for Ajax when Louis van Gaal was the assistant manager of the club and played two full seasons under his fellow countryman when the latter took over as the first team manager.
Brilliant on the ball and having perhaps the finest technique of the modern era, the Bergkamp is a genuine legend of the game and his inclusion here is a no-brainer.
(Video Courtesy: Praetorian YouTube Channel)
Striker: Patrick Kluivert
Kluivert was promoted to Ajax’s first team when he was just 18 and he repaid the faith well in the 1995 Champions League final when the striker scored a late winner to hand van Gaal his only CL trophy of his career.
Later on, Kluivert was reunited with his mentor at Barcelona and was a major success there as well, forming one of the best attacks in the world alongside teammates Figo and Rivaldo. The prolific forward completes and leads this team of absolute legends.
(Video Courtesy: cevaking YouTube Channel)
Substitutes: David De Gea (GK), Ronald de Boer, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf, Robin Van Persie
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