NORMAN GILLER has sailed off into the sunset, but still found time to recall the occasion Louis van Gaal compared his work to that of Shakespeare. Sort of
There’s nothing like a relaxed sea cruise to exercise the brain and exorcise demons, and here I am aboard the enormous, luxury P&O liner Arcadia somewhere in the Baltic, eventually bound for St Petersburg.
Everything is tip-top aboard ship apart from what makes the modern media journo tick … the wi-fi. I am being charged £1 a minute for the privilege of communicating with you and at a speed that Fred Flintstone would have considered slow.
I am bang up to date with what is happening at home thanks to Sky international news, and the appointment of Louis van Gaal as Manchester United boss made me smile at a memory of interviewing him yonks ago, when he was in charge at Ajax.
I asked an innocuous question about how his Ajax compared with the great team of Cruyff and Neeskens of the 1970s (which as a player van Gaal could not break into). He gave me his famous baleful stare and said: “How do you compare as a writer with William Shakespeare? You just cannot make comparisons with then and now in any field.”
Red alert warning to my old football reporting colleagues: Louis is the friendliest manager you will meet as long as you write what he wants to read.
He pretends he has no knowledge of what you are writing about him, but secretly hoovers it all up and waits for his moment for revenge against any journalist who crosses him.
Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal – I think the headline writers will settle for LVG – is out of the Fergie school, not suffering fools and quick to jump on any writer he considers attracted to fiction rather than fact.
And this man can really jump. He was one of Holland’s top gymnasts before deciding to concentrate on professional football.
Those journalists allowed close to him will be rewarded with enjoying the incredible knowledge of a manager who continued the Dutch tradition of Total Football, which for this gnarled old hack was the golden age of the game.
A man of many moods and many tongues, he is remembered in Spain for his parting shot to the press when forced out at Barcelona in 2000: “Amigos de la prensa, yo me voy. Felicidades.” Which translates as, “Friends of the press, I am leaving. Congratulations.” They had got their man after months of assassination attempts wrapped in words and hurtful headlines.
His press conferences at Old Trafford should make riveting television. One of his stock answers that silences interrogators: “Is it that I am being too smart or is it that you are being too stupid …?” followed by the cold stare and a suddenly tongue-tied interviewer.
I was excited that Tottenham thought they had van Gaal tied up as the next manager at White Hart Lane, but he was canny enough to keep his options open in the knowledge that David Moyes was on borrowed time.
He is eccentric and inventive in equal measure, has been known to drop his trousers in the dressing-room to make a point about “having balls”, and has word wars with players and the media wherever he lays his hat.
But he has a drawer full of medals to show he is a winner as a manger and he is one of the few big enough to step into Fergie’s shoes.
Watching from the sidelines, I am envious of the football writers who are going to have him as a copy provider.
I think he will cruise though the job.
WITH MY Tottenham leanings, I had a miserable couple of hours watching the FA Cup final and considered jumping into the Baltic as Arsenal came from behind to beat Hull in extra-time at Wembley.
I sat alone watching the match on a cinema-size screen on the Arcadia, with hardly anybody among the other 2,000 passengers drawn to the game. Well it did clash with the fourth meal of the day.
At least Arsenal’s victory shut up our old Fleet Street colleague Piers Morgan, a Gooner who continually makes a fool of himself on Twitter with his vicious attacks on the management of Arsene Wenger.
For me, the French professor of football is one of the great modern managers who has earned the right to decide the time to walk away from the Emirates. Yet know-nowt Morgan has been the leader of an Arsenal lynch mob on line calling for Wenger’s head.
Morgan’s judgement as a journalist goes out of the window when he fires with both barrels at a manager who knows the game inside out.
I would love to know what Wenger thinks privately of Morgan, who exposes his lack of knowledge of the Beautiful Game with every ugly tweet.
Wenger has few peers and, fortunately for him, only one Piers.
Back to the deck chair. Somebody has to do it.
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