Sunday, July 6, 2014

Louis Van Gaal, a free man

The Dutch manager does not care about what public opinion thinks. That does not mean he does not care about what others think, since it is not infrequent to see him talking to his players or his assistants. The Netherlands may not win the World Cup, although at several times during the Cup they have been the non-American team with the highest probability to do so, despite clearly not having the best individual players. No, but they will not win, because otherwise it is a whole industry of Van Gaal critics, headed by Cruyff and Valdano (who have not managed a team for almost 20 years now and who spend most of their time playing golf or talking to a microphone), that would be discredited. And also, because the impossible Leo Messi plays for Argentina, and not for The Netherlands. That, the Dutch winning, cannot happen, there is too much at stake.
Enough has been said about Van Gaal's work and his tactical decisions, including yesterday's in replacing the goal keeper to improve the odds at the penalty shoot-out (Cruyff is one of the fathers of the theory that shoot-outs are a lottery and that nothing can be done to prepare for them, according to Ben Lyttleton in "Twelve Yards"). But one thing that is happening in front of everybody and no-one has mentioned is that, as opposed to all other managers, Van Gaal spends all the match seated on his bench, instead of walking or standing nervously in the "technical area" provided for managers next to the pitch. All other managers, instead of observing and taking notes like Van Gaal, shout and move propelled by "action bias", because the social norm is that it should seem that they try to improve the performance of their teams -although there is nothing they can do once the ball starts rolling. I am sure managers did not behave like this before all games were on live TV. But the Dutch manager is free from social norms, and that gives him another edge to make more rational decisions.
My happiness will not be absolute because of course it is impossible that The Netherlands win the World Cup, but in the meantime, I enjoy the best experts in world and Dutch soccer praise the genius of Van Gaal, like Simon Kuper in this article or David Winner in this interview.
(Post scriptum 1-July 10th: even free men make mistakes. Van Gaal should not have decided that a defender kicks the first penalty in the shoot-out against Argentina. According to Apesteguia and Palacios Huerta, kicking first gives a psychological advantage that obviously you lose if you fail to score. That's why the best players should be the first to kick. The Argentinian manager, Sabella, knew that and decided that Messi had to kick the first penalty.
Post scriptum 2 -July 11th: Louis van Gaal says two of his Netherlands players refused to take the first penalty against Argentina; against Costa Rica, the first penalty was kicked by Van Persie, but against Argentina he had been substituted because he was exhausted.
Post scriptum 3 -July 13th: The Netherlands finish third after beating Brazil by 3-0 and not losing a single game -they were beaten by Argentina in a penalty shoot-out. They have scored 15 goals and conceded 4 in the whole World Cup).

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