The spirit of St Louis: Basking in the cult of LVG

Compared to Louis van Gaal’s honeymoon, Kimye’s went unheralded.

We are in the midst of a powerful infatuation that extends beyond the recovering Manchester United family.

Of course this orphaned people — many of whom gave up football this year, only to find it again when Holland beat Spain — will cling once more to the certainty of an abrasive father figure, after they were briefly fostered by a well-meaning but confused soul.

But LVG has beguiled others too. Sky Sports News has been impressed on a loop since his arrival, fresh from reinventing tactics, |goalkeeping, penalty shoot-outs, substitutions and Dirk Kuyt during the World Cup, where he declared at the semi-final stage, to book two days off.

Awe deepened when LVG completed his first United press conference without giving the impression that he had been dragged there with a bag over his head before being shoved out into the glare.

We have since leaned in for titbits, watching him in training tell Rooney and Welbeck to shoot into the corners. It may well have been advice that nobody, not even Fergie, thought they needed to hear, because in unprecedented scenes, Welbeck went out against the LA Galaxy and shot into the corner, to open the scoring.

LVG then bamboozled the Galaxy with tactical wizardry, managing to field every player in the United squad in his best position.

Giggsy has compared him to Fergie. Forget The Chosen One banner, long torn off its Old Trafford rigging, by mid-August might they have renamed it the LVG Stand?

And he hasn’t yet, we assume, had to play his old trump card; trousers at half mast.

Then, on Thursday, the biography landed. After reading it, the only person left with doubts might be Fergie himself.

First, the bits tailored from the same cloth stitched in Govan. Gary Neville once said, of Fergie: “He just thinks about people on the island of Manchester United. Everyone outside of that island; sharks. Go away.”

LVG’s biographer Maarten Meijer copped that early. “He seemed to assume that the world beyond the immediate environs of the safe Ajax grounds was infested with people of ill will.”

“Van Gaal’s biggest concern with the media was showing signs of weakness,” Meijer tells us.

In last year’s autobiography, Fergie admitted the same. “Showing your torments to them is no way to help the team or improve your chances...”

It was a policy Moyesy didn’t heed when he told us, day one, how the blood drained from his face when he learned of his new job. We knew then what to look out for. Fergie did admit getting advice from a friend at Granada TV. “Look in that mirror and put the Alex Ferguson face on,” was his policy thereafter. To LVG, this in itself might count as an admission of weakness.

“Fifteen years ago everyone wrote that I had received media training, because things were quiet around me for some time. A little while later something happened again and then all the reporters had to acknowledge: Louis van Gaal did not get any media training.”

It’s clear that Alex Ferguson has also met his match in Louis van Gaal when it comes to talking about Alex Ferguson or Louis van Gaal in the third person.

Fergie’s chief weapon in the war against misinterpretation was a shut door. “In banning reporters I would be saying: I’m not accepting your version of events.”

LVG held the keys there too, but is also willing to go the extra mile. He demands to read interviews before print, reserving the right to rewrite every word.

“I would find it very unpleasant if you were to do that,” one journalist pleads.

“Me too,” replies van Gaal, ‘because that is a lot of work for me.”

Judging by current coverage, he is clocking overtime. Fergie could, on occasion, be self-deprecating, at least in a way that ultimately vindicated him. “I made a mistake with Michael (Owen) in the sense that I should have signed him earlier.”

To LVG, savage introspection is likening himself to one of the world’s greatest players. “Xavi is more like I was. Technically perfect. Tactically strong, but too slow … Like myself. Iniesta is the player I wanted to be, but wasn’t.”

Interestingly, both men share, or shared, a fascination with JFK. Fergie’s collection of assassination memorabilia may be partly driven by his other great love of conspiracy theories, but he was star-struck too, by the “good-looking boy”.

To LVG, heroes are people who won’t match your standards.

“I got very disappointed by Kennedy. When I was still young I didn’t see it, but he did a lot of things in his own personal interest, and not in the interest of the US and the world. Besides, he had all kinds of extramarital affairs. I am not a proponent of that either.”

A hint, maybe, to Fergie, in his stand, and Giggsy, in the dugout, that LVG now decides who is trespassing on the island.

Where a kiss still packs a punch

Another mark of Louis van Gaal’s unshakeable confidence; he and van Persie botched a high-five in Brazil, but undeterred, he has been high-fiving all and sundry this week at United’s training sessions in California.

Fitting, in the week that ESPN released the short film High Five, about LA Dodgers outfielder Glenn Burke, who instigated the first known high-five in 1977, to celebrate teammate Dusty Baker’s home run.

In the film, Abdul-Jalil al-Hakim, Burke’s agent, talks about the gift his old friend left us.

“You can go anywhere around the world and people know what that is. It’s a universal symbol for all of us to share. It’s a gesture that strikes your soul.”

On the same day the movie was released, two men shared a kiss during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. What would Burke have made of it?

The ball player who encouraged billions of men into a flamboyant display of affection and appreciation was once summoned to the LA Dodgers office and offered $75,000 if he’d get married.

Burke’s response: “I guess you mean to a woman, right?”

He left the money on the table and was soon traded and wound up a pariah from baseball. Openly gay and accepted and loved by his teammates, the sporting world still turned a bit too slowly for him.

He died 19 years ago. If he was watching at Celtic Park, would he have been impressed at what was now possible in a sporting arena or saddened that in so many of the places his exuberant gesture reached, a kiss was still regarded as a grand gesture of defiance?

Heroes & villains


Dublin players: Glenn Burke would have enjoyed watching them celebrate their Leinster final win last Sunday with high-fives for little cancer patient Molly McNally.


The Rory Furore: Gestures matter, but it’s his business how nice he wants to be. Still, no need either for the golfing fraternity to invent rules that supposedly compelled him to elbow away a kid.

Garry Cook: The UFC MD told us Conor McGregor is “representing the nation in what it’s famous for — fighting.” Good to see he has eased off on the brash soundbites since his Man City days.

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