Remembering Louis van Gaal’s tenure as Barcelona manager

Louis Van Gaal, Barcelona manager,inside Nou Camp stadium, home of Barcelona (Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images)
Louis Van Gaal, Barcelona manager,inside Nou Camp stadium, home of Barcelona (Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images) /

Louis van Gaal retires with 4 titles at Barcelona

The late 90s were a tumultuous period in the history of Barcelona. The Cruyff era had ended, with long-time president Josep Lluís Núñez slowly losing his grip over the club. Louis van Gaal was seen as Núñez’s last attempt to rejuvenate the fortunes of the club.

Núñez had appointed Bobby Robson a year before, and the Englishman had led Barça to the Copa del Rey and the domestic and European supercups. But he was forced to step aside for Van Gaal, who had won 11 titles in 6 years as Ajax manager.

The Dutchman struggled to adapt to the footballing atmosphere at the Camp Nou, despite bringing in Winston Bogarde, Michael Reiziger and Ruud Hesp from the Netherlands. One of the highlights of his tenure was his disagreement with club legend Rivaldo.

Núñez had signed the high-profile Brazilian centre-forward after he had had an excellent season with Deportivo La Coruña. Rivaldo wanted to play up front. Yet Van Gaal insisted on fielding him down the left flank.

The World Cup winner did end up netting 130 goals and providing 41 assists in 235 appearances in all competitions at Barça. But he could have done without his publicised dispute with the manager. Nevertheless, Van Gaal ended his first season on a note of success.

He completed a treble of sorts, securing the La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the European Super Cup. But the next two seasons were poor, as Barça went trophyless. Under immense pressure, Núñez resigned as president and Van Gaal followed suit.

The resignation of Josep Lluís Núñez was a sort of a landmark in the club’s history. Barça finally moved on from the elation associated with Johan Cruyff’s success. Louis van Gaal also carved out an identity separate from that of being Cruyff’s successor.

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Van Gaal’s first reign as Barça manager was marred by controversy, starting from his arrival and ending in his departure. The AZ legend made waves with his parting comments after the club ironically lost the league title to Deportivo.

"He said, “Friends of the press. I am leaving. Congratulations.”"

Núñez’s successor, Joan Gaspart, would go on to reappoint the Dutchman after Lorenzo Serra Ferrer and Carles Rexach failed to deliver any titles. But Van Gaal’s second tenure at Barça ended in an ignominious exit just 30 games in charge.

Regardless of statistics going against Louis van Gaal, he is an extremely important figure in the club’s history. Van Gaal handed debuts to La Masia graduates who would go on to become club legends, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Víctor Valdés and Carles Puyol.

He had an acute eye for spotting talent, and called up many youngsters from Barcelona B. Van Gaal also made signings which were very important in that phase, the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Phillip Cocu and Javier Saviola.

Now, Louis van Gaal has officially retired from football. He is the second former Dutch Barça manager to do so in recent history, after Frank Rijkaard. After leaving Barça for a second time, Van Gaal went on to become of the greatest managers in modern history.

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He led Bayern Munich to a domestic double, and won the Eredivisie with AZ. Van Gaal also guided the Netherlands to a third-place finish at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and won the FA Cup with Manchester United. But he couldn’t replicate his success at Ajax anywhere.