louis van gaal and josé mourinho – alike, but still different

it’s quite a few months ago, now. 8 months, to be exact. louis van gaal and josé mourinho were at the sidelines in the year’s second most important final of the year. in the bernabeu, their clubs bayern munich and internazionale milan were playing the final. and those two trainers seemed so different; here the tall and pretty big dutch, there the shorter and smarter looking portuguese.

van gaal won the champions league with ajax in 95, eliminating bayern with a 5x2 in the semifinals...

actually, there not that different at all. and not at all trendy, either. everywhere in europe, the young coaches with clear concepts, humble but firm image and smart sentences are taking over more and more clubs; the money is short, and suddenly the coach becomes a more important figure to make the little money invested give out the maximum output. but mourinho and van gaal are different; and, to a certain agree, alike.

both had great success early in their career, with clubs that shouldn’t had it. mourinho formed a great fc porto team, which one the uefa cup and the champions league in the early 2000s; van gaal won the uefa cup and the champions league with ajax amsterdam almost a decade earlier. both counted on young and still unknown players, which all became pretty famous in their later career. both used the chance to get to a bigger club; mourinho joined english giants chelsea, van gaal went to fc barcelona. both had immediate national success, but difficulty to repeat european glory. this is were the career parallel ends. and where their story begins.

van gaal and mourinho working together at barcelona.

when van gaal was in barcelona, he made his translater josé mourinho his assitance coach. how were these two ego-maniacs able to work together? well, one was the boss, and in the position to be generous – van gaal loves to be generous, and he even gave mourinho full coaching opportunities. the pupil went on to work for fc porto, and the “master” was called by the dutch federation when barcelona didn’t want him anymore. we’ll come back to that, later.

mourinho beat van gaal in the champions league final last may.

van gaal had a historical football disaster as holland’s chef coach, and the netherlands didn’t qualify for the 2002 world cup. for van gaal, it was back to the beginnings after a few years out of business. he started at az alkmaar – and got them very close to the title in 2008, and to the title in 2009. there was no doubt, he was a fantastic football teacher. and he got his dream job back to a top club, at bayern munich, where they were looking for a football teacher.

mourinho was still having national success, now with inter in the serie a, but not in europe. little did the two men know that they would meet in may 2010, in the bernabeu, where mourinho now works.

one can say that the pupil has surpassed the master. career-wise, having coached chelsea, inter and now real madrid. in the champions league final, beating bayern 2×0. the duel is still on, but what do these two friends have in common?

mourinho, a winner for fc porto, too. and beloved!

mourinho and van gaal are completely convinced of their superior knowledge in all things football. everyone around, including journalists, get the idea that they’re amateurs, compared to these one-man-shows. real madrid is a huge club with gigantic history, and has stars like cristiano ronaldo, kaká, casillas and özil, but they are completely overshadowed by mourinho. he is the club, and he needs it to be that way. when something doesn’t work his way, be it outside or inside the club, the press will know. and the power is in his hands.

van gaal tends to make everyone around him feel a little dumber, too. he has that effect on people, since he is very convinced of his vision of football and of all of his decisions. he listens to others, but at the end he’ll do what he thinks is right, which normally remains unchanged. this is what he has in common with his former protegée – a high opinion of his abilities, with results to back it up. these coaches are becoming rare, but both van gaal and mourinho dominate their respective scenes.

but this is where we come to the differences, which are quite a few. it starts with the view of the sport: mourinho is more pragmatic and wants to win at any cost, even at cost of “beautiful football”; of course, he too likes the game played well, but he prefers to just simply win matches. both chelsea and inter got a reputation for playing defensively, on the fast counter-attack – and that’s how inter beat bayern in the 2010 champions league final. some say that he can’t do that in real madrid. mourinho says that will work with whatever player material he has, but at the end, real is mourinho – until he leaves (which he loves to play with, the idea of leaving). van gaal, on the other hand, wants to win and dominate; he is always in search of the perfect game, his teams always play with ball possession and try to attack. the normal system is to tire the opponents in the first half, and to finish off the match in the second.

another philosophical difference is that of players. mourinho is confident enough that he will remain to be the main star, so he is always in search for players that are ready to go in and win titles. van gaal prides himself in giving young players their first chances, many times against public and even internal opinion. the list of players he’s put on the pitch first is very long and extremely prominent. it’s part of what he does best. so he doesn’t really like big stars in his club, some say because he has to be the biggest star.

another difference is the leadership style. although both are absolute aplha-types, it seems that mourinho gets along better with the players; he seems to be able to communicate with them better, speak their language, motivate and convince them. he’s from portugal (were the wanting to win gene was developed), van gaal is dutch (domination and beautiful game); the success gives van gaal reason, the actual playing, not the communication off-field. van gaal is funny in his own way, but he has no closeness to players, simply because he’s not good at it. they all respect him, but they don’t love him like mourinho’s players do. this might be the biggest difference. both have total support within their squads currently, but everyone who leaves bayern has no warm words for van gaal (mostly players from southern countries).

having problems with his boss: van gaal and uli hoeness.

a further and final difference is the clubs their working for. real madrid has had lots of success with the philosophy of building up and international star team and winning glorious titles. it was like that in the 50s, and it still is like that now. so there is no “real” philosophy outside of buying, and the buying of mourinho is another example for that. this allows mourinho to totally dominate the team, since it has no historical values or traditions, per say – besides winning at any cost. bayern munich is very different, and quite unique in europe. club president uli hoeness, bayern president karlheinz rummenigge and manager christian nerlinger are all ex-players at bayern and for germany. hoeness has been at the club since the 60s, and the club is not used to having someone from the outside being a “one-man show”. louis van gaal is always very direct about his thoughts, and journalists, although slightley afraid of him, know how to take advantage. hoeness and van gaal will never become friends, and it might seem that the german is preparing a premature exit for his great dutch coach if the results don’t come. van gaal has become a coach that will only be able to stay if he has success – exactly what happened to him at barcelona. that’s spain’s only team with a tradition of how they want to play football, and some other values. they didn’t like van gaal’s natural arrogance, but he won them two la liga titles in a row. when it seemed who wouldn’t manage a third, he was fired; and that after bringing forth andres iniesta, carles puyol and victor valdez, amongst others. he did make the mistake of bringing in a bunch of dutch players and fighting with the biggest star (rivaldo), which he didn’t do at bayern. and i, as a bayern fan, would like van gaal to stay as long as possible. he’s just that good, and the players know it, too. but it seems that he can’t really control his ego in moments he should.

the funny thing is that both mourinho and van gaal are really nice guys, and most journalists will confirm this. funny, interesting and extremely capable of doing their job. but where for one, the one-man-show is part of his success story, for the other, it might be, once again, his downfall.

mourinho = real madrid

bayern will meet inter in the round of 16 of this season’s champions league. real madrid will try their revenge on olympique lyon, who eliminated them last season. interesting matches, for sure. and maybe a next step to a revenge in the final, between van gaal and mourinho?

fifa club world cup – a pretty bad joke!

rafa benitez, when he was still welcome at internazionale; now, not even the fifa club world cup might save his job!

internazionale milan is in a little bit of a crisis. the reigning european champions have slipped in the serie a, and their latest display on international grounds was an embarresment to the team – a 0x3 loss in bremen, a match i actually attended. italian media reports that not even a fifa club world cup title will save his job. fifa club world cup? what was that again, many europeans might ask. if you go to south america, though, people know pretty well what that is. a quick look into the history of this competition will make this discrepancy clearer.

once upon a time, europe decided to create continental competitions to figure out which teams were the best in the continent. it all started with the first european cup in 1955, now known as uefa champions league; the idea was to play a knock-out tournament with all the current national champions parallel to the new season; away and home matches would decide the progression of a team, and the final was held in a neutral place to crown europe’s true champion. the uefa cup (at the founding time called inter-cities fairs cup) started a few years later, and the cup winner’s cup (now extinct) only in the 60s. but generally, a the team winning the european cup was viewed as the best team in the world.

pele for santos and eusebio for benfica - the 1962 final of the newly founded intercontinental cup.

south america couldn’t have that. their teams had a great tradition on their continent, and by 1958, south american nations had one three of six fifa world cups. while real madrid was winning the european cup every year, being considered the world’s best seemed arrogant to south american clubs. out of that feeling came the idea to create the “copa libertadores”, a competition who’s one goal was to define the best club in south america, and then to compare that club to the best one in europe. notice the historical difference: the european cup was designed to find the best club in europe, while the libertadores cup was clearly designed to defy the idea that european clubs were any better than south american ones. this is the reason why, until today, the intercontinental cup (our european-south american cup, as it was known for many years), taken hostage by fifa and now named fifa club world cup, is the maximum title a south american player can aspire for, if he plays for a south american club. for the europeans, that will never be the case, since their goal is to win the european cup, now called the uefa champions league.

the new intercontinental cup, now called world cup; the old one had europe and south american engraved...from an objective point of view, this already poses a question mark over the whole matches. Until 1980, away and home matches would decide the european-south american champion, often referred to as world champion. but many teams from europea wouldn’t bother to actually play those matches, since there was little to no prestige in it for them. after tokyo took over hosting and sponsoring, europeans always went to play the match – but more for the incredible amount of money than for the chance to defend european glory. so how can you take a match seriously, when the only way one side will give it some commitment is if you pay them enough to do so? with the other side so eager to win, based on sports merits? at times, a south american club would arrive in tokyo a full month earilier, while the european team would fly in after a league game on the weekend, just a couple of days before the match.

and nothing has really changed. while some teams hire players for that one match (and pay a lot of money for it), basically no european country will even broadcast it live. rafa benitez, stumbling head coach of uefa champions league winners internazionale, has been told that even a victory in fifa’s competition will not really improve his chances of not getting sacked – incredible for south american clubs!

when there was no real money involved, only the south americans really took the matches seriously. until 1970, giants like real madrid, milan, internazionale and benfica actually played the matches, but with little success. there is some merit to be given to teams like santos, peñarol and such, and at the end of the decade (and first 11 matchups), south americans had won six. looking at it objectively, though, this only seemed to confirm european superiority. but it led many south americans to believe that the football played on their continent was at least of the same level as in europe.

internacional, from porto alegre, brazil, will probably reach the final today; they've one the cup once, a few years ago against barcelona.

this impression was confirmed in the 70s, but it was nontheless a false one. european clubs really didn’t see the point in spending money to play a game they didn’t have the motivation for; and the trophy was little aprecciated even by the fans. it was always viewed as a nice bonus, but not really important. ajax won the european cup three times between 71-73, but only bothered to play one intercontinental final, where they beat independiente from argentina; from 74-76, bayern munich won the title in europe, but only played once, too: against cruzeiro from brazil, taking the prize. the lack of interest by the champions gave clubs like panathinaikos athens, atletico madrid and even borussia mönchengladbach a chance to play for the title. 1975 and 1978 the matches were cancelled alltogether, liverpool and bayern munich didn’t show any interest, and neither did anyone else. in 1979, nottingham forrest didn’t go, and malmö ff took over. even with these stories and juventus not wanting to play the match in buenos aires after losing 0x1 at home to independiente, europe won 3 of 7 duels. once again a pretty bad record for the south americans, if you look beyond the surface.

finally toyota came into the scene, helping uefa and conmebol to make the match more attractive to europeans. money was now involved, and one match instead of two also helped motivate europeans, who were now incentivated by uefa to go and do some good marketing for football, in asia. if you look at it from a sports point of view, you were taking the match away mostly from the south american fans, who actually cared. but if europeans were to take it more seriously now, so be it. after all, the motivation was still the same: to show europe where the best football was being played.

grêmio, another club from porto alegre, will be rooting for internazionale. becayse if the brazilian inter beats the european one, grêmio will have a "world title" less than internacional; by the way, they won theirs against hamburg, in 1984.

the new constellation meant that south americans were still playing for maximum honor, while europeans were motivated by some extra yens. and so, nottingham forrest, who had refused to play in 1979, took a plane to tokyo and lost to nacional. what followed delighted the south americans: 7 out of the following 9 finals were won by them, nacional uruguai even won twice. what had caused this big advantage? well, finally the passion for that particular match was paying off. preperation for tokyo were often weeks long in japan for these south american clubs, while europeans would normally arrive a day before the match. audiences would watch the match in the southern hemisphere, while no live coverages were shown in europe. basically, the europeans were picking up their checks, and were motivated purely by the fact that south americans were so extremely motivated. after all, no one wants to lose a match.

since 1995, the second time i ever watched this match (the first time was also in brazil, with brazilian participation in the final), the table has turned somewhat. in terms of results. interest is still extremely low on the old continent, not a single tv station had live pictures from last year’s final (who played whom again??); but the money and marketing involved are increasing, and that’s due to the professional money makers from fifa, who had not been involved with this competition at all. until today, fifa consideres the first club world champion to be the winner of their first ever such tournament, won by corinthians – a team that has never even won the libertadores cup! and the greater joke was that manchester united, the 1999 uefa champions league winner (dramatic final against bayern), didn’t want to play the tournament. they’d played the intercontinental final (which still existed) and won it (as most europeans were, after 1994), and now they would have to either play fifa’s new tournament or the fa cup. it is obvious that both club and players preferred to play first round fa cup action than this stupid tournament in brazil’s hot summer.

fifa’s tournament was an embarresment for everyone envolved, the title match being between two brazilian clubs (none of them had even recently won the libertadores cup). real madrid and manchester united showed a clear lack of interest, and fifa would not try again until 2005. the intercontinental cup was still alive and running every single year, until fc porto beat once caldas in the last japonese final. in those last 10 years of japan, europe won the title seven times. it’s not a coincidence that this started after the bosman ruling and the invasion of south american players in european top leagues – they were historically motivated to win the that title, even if they were now making the opposite point.

fifa wants money, so fifa started organizing the "fifa club world cup". a sad affair.

fifa had now basically bought the right to be exclusively responsible for crowining the world club champion. all confederations sent their title holders, but up to now, europe and south america have always played the final. this should probably also happen next sunday, when internacional (bra) and internazionale are expected to play the final. and the only people really caring will be either the population of the south brazilian city porto alegre, and the inter fans for their own; and the internazionale fans mostly in south america. once again we’ll see images which show seemingly sad players from the italian club after losing, and brazilian fans saying “see, they do care about he match”. this sentence says it all.

the fifa club world cup (which used to be called “fifa club world championship” but had it named change to sound more like the much more important “fifa world cup”) is a money-making scheme where only one club really desires to hold that title in their hands. the big joke of the tournament is that the fans from grêmio porto alegre, internacional’s city rivals, will be rooting more for internazionale milano than the interisti themselves. that says it all! and the joke is also on fifa, who are selling the tv rights to the dubai spectacle at such high prices that europeans are still not interested in buying them.

and the last joke might be on the spaniard rafa benitez; the might be the fifa world champion and lose his job just a few weeks later. which makes it pretty clear: even if south american club football were better than the european game (a point no true specialist would dare to make), the intercontinental cup or the fifa club world cup wouldn’t answer the question. instead, ask yourself how many of the players participating in the world cup quarterfinal this year played in european clubs. and how much of the tactics in that world cup was inspired by south american leagues.

european club football will always be better south american club football, just as the uefa champions league has a much higher quality than the copa libertadores. and more and more south americans are admitting this. i do admit it was less clear in the 60s and 70s, but even then that was true.

time for european football – part one

the preliminary round is done with, the group phases will begin next week. some interesting groups have been drawn, and traditional teams will play some newly rich, unknowns will play famous sides, new stars will be born and olders will become legendary.

özil will have to prove himself at real madrid.

i will organize the uefa europa league groups and the uefa champions league groups based on the current rankings (considering the last four seasons in europe) and their historical rankings (since 1955). using simple maths, i will determine the toughest group. just a quick way to create an overview of this year’s competitors.

cl = champions league, el = europa league, (historical rank/current rank)

cl group g:

a star at the world cup, how will it go for "prince" at milan.

ac milan (5/8), real madrid (1/16), ajax amsterdam (10/48), aj auxerre (86/122);

you could argue that real hasn’t been in the quarterfinals for six years, ajax is not what they used to be; but this group has three of the best 10 clubs in history, which makes it the strongest group of all. milan has the best record in the last few years, and they just got prince boateng, zlatan and robinho to add to pato and ronaldinho… but real madrid, still without kaka but with higuain, cristiano ronaldo, özil, xabi alonso, khedira and casillas, are almost considered favorites. let’s see how josé mourinho’s and ibra’s rendezvous ends. ajax has luiz suarez, uruguaian world cup hero. this is the toughest group of this european semester.

here are the other groups, with their main stars:

cl group c:

nani might be a star this season, for manchester

manchester united (9/1), valencia fc (20/23), glasgow rangers (17/25), bursaspor (319/171) – not an easy group for the english giants, but they should go through. valencia are favorites for the second spot, but i think bursaspor will challenge them more than the rangers.

manu stars: van der sar (ned), evra (fra), ferdinand (eng), owen (eng), berbatov (bul), rooney (eng), giggs (wal), park (kor), hernandéz (mex), vidic (srb), nani (por), scholes (eng)

others: navarro (spa, val), j. sánchez (spa, val), soldado (spa, val), mata (spa, val), r. costa (por, val),  weiss (slk, ran), insúa (arg, bur), erdogan (tur, bur)

cl group f:

ramires showed promise in the world cup and should do well for chelsea.

chelsea fc (22/4), olympique marseille (29/28), spartak moscow (36/51), msk zilina (267/107) – chelsea is through, marseille will battle it out with spartak; i think the russians will go through.

chelsea stars: cech (cze), ivanovic (srb), cole (eng), essien (gha), ramires (bra), lampard (eng), benayoun (isr), drogba (ivo), mikel (nig), malouda (fra), zhirkov (rus), ferreira (por), kalou (ivo), terry (eng), anelka (fra)

others: l. gonzález (arg, mar), a. ayew (gha, mar), heinze (arg, mar), mandanda (fra, mar), ibson (bra, mos), saenko (rus, mos)

cl group a:

maicon is still one of the best players in the world.

internazionale (7/6), werder bremen (33/9), tottenham hotspur (34/35), twente enschede (100/68) – the defending champ, a current top ten club from germany, the strong brits – and the current dutch champions. this is tough, and even inter has to be careful. hotspurs, werder and inter should battle it out, enschede might decide it by taking points away.

inter stars: césar (bra), zanetti (arg), stankovic (srb), lucio (bra), eto’o (cam), sneijder (ned), muntari (gha), maicon (bra), cambiasso (arg), d.milito (arg), samuel (arg)

others: wiese (ger, bre), naldo (bra, bre), wesley (bra, bre), arnautovic (aut, bre), marin (ger, bre), hunt (ger, bre), silvestre (fra, bre), frings (ger, bre), almeida (por, bre), pizarro (per, bre), mertesacker (ger, bre), gomes (bra, tot), bale (wal, tot), lennon (eng, tot), jenas (eng, tot), pavlyuchenko (rus, tot), keane (irl, tot), van der vaart (ned, tot), gallas (fra, tot), modric (srb, tot), crouch (eng, tot), dos santos (mex, tot), defoe (eng, tot), landzaat (ned, twe), ruiz (cor, twe)

those were the first four of 20 groups, this series will have three more parts. stay tuned.