How would Louis van Gaal manage Arsenal?


There are two reasons why I became, ever so gradually, a Gooner: Dennis Bergkamp and Arsene Wenger. Together, one with his head and the other with his feet, they made Arsenal what it still is today for me: a great football club that is always striving towards beautiful, winning football.

I reckon Arsenal were lucky that both geniuses arrived at Highbury around the same time, but equally, Dennis and Arsene were lucky to have found Arsenal: their spiritual home of football.

They did not just share a similar vision on how proper football should be played and an appreciation of beauty in football as a worthy quest, but also deep loyalty towards the club and a desire to leave something behind for eternity. It is a real shame they still have not been reunited to manage our club together, but hopefully this will happen soon; and the announcement that a statue will be erected for our former Dutch master during the summer might indicate that a reunion is still on the cards.

Over the last few months, I have started to feel sceptical about Arsene’s ability to move us up one more level: to the platform were the shiniest silverware is handed out, and where our club belongs. I am no saying he cannot do it anymore, and as per many previous posts, there are good reasons – rather than excuses – why he has not been able to get us back again to where we belong, and he desperately wants to be, during the last eight years.

But the whole process of getting us there again must be tiring him and the pressure he finds himself under must be nearly unbearable. Luckily, Arsene has one more year left on his contract, and as some have pointed out, next season is make or break for him. Not that he will be pushed out, and I would also not be surprised if he is offered an extension to his contract this summer, but Arsene himself will no doubt use our next season as the final measurement of whether he can move our club upwards and onwards, or not.

Being a big proponent of Total Football (TF), and a huge admirer of Louis van Gaal (the manager, not necessarily the person), I have been thinking recently how Van Gaal would do at Arsenal. If we put aside the potential difficulties he would have with the British, vitriolic media – Van Gaal is a very stubborn man who says it as he sees it and does  not take fools lightly – I reckon he would be a very good alternative if and when Arsene decides his time is up.

Although both managers want their teams to play TF, they do have a different approach. I reckon there are two broad variants of TF:

  1. Highly prescriptive TF (Barcelona under Van Gaal and Guardiola, Ajax under Van Gaal, Liverpool under Rodgers, and Dortmund under Klopp?);
  2. TF with an allowance for self-expression: Barcelona under Cruijff, Barcelona under Rijkaard, Arsenal under Wenger.

The big differences between the two variants are on the one hand a strong need to adhere to sharply defined roles and tactical discipline with regards to variant one, and on the other hand, a strong need for very good footballers to really make variant two work.

Variant two can work really well, but it is a prerequisite to have a large number of quality players within the team; through either developing them or buying them, and, of course, keeping hold of them as well. Arsenal and Wenger used to be able to get, and keep hold of, world class players. There is now new hope we will be able to do this again going forward, but it remains to be seen whether this will be the case, and whether we can sustain it.

For me, Van Gaal is the master of variant one; and if it wasn’t for his difficult character and the inevitability of becoming a victim of his own success – paradoxically, he is constantly offered jobs at top clubs who already have top, top players who time and again have to be fitted into his system of football, which often leads to all sorts of power conflicts – he would now be celebrated as one of the best, if not the best, manager(s) around.

The thing is, Van Gaal would be most at home at a club with a long term vision, ambition and patience; like Dortmund, Schalke, Ajax, a sub-top Spanish side – other than RM or Barcelona, or indeed Arsenal. Van Gaal does not need many great players in his team. He calls himself a process manager and will work very closely with his team to drill them on TF tactics, specific role requirements, and role rotation. He drills a team into a footballing machine, and for that he needs flexible, adaptable and multi-skilled footballers, who can, and want to, learn from him.

He does not require a huge budget, and neither does he need many world class stars; just one or two would probably be enough for him to build a top quality team. What he did with Ajax was simply phenomenal, and I have little doubt he could turn our current Arsenal team into a top class team; given time and patience. For me, he seems the ideal man to take over from Arsene at some point in the future.

Van Gaal is perfectly happy managing the Dutch national side at the moment, but maybe he can be tempted to join us after next year’s World Cup: I am sure he would relish the opportunity. Arsene’s contract is up and he could move upwards, whilst Dennis could join Van Gaal as his number two, and do all the PR.

Arsene, Dennis and Van Gaal: now that would be some trio to make Arsenal a top, top European side for the next 10 to 15 years or so!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

48 thoughts on “How would Louis van Gaal manage Arsenal?

  • I know this is off topic, but how do actually spell Cruyff??? Is it Cruyff, or is it Cruijff??? I’ve seen it spelled both ways a lot…Thought I’d ask a person who actually would know!!!

    I’m not entirely sold on Van Gaal simply for the reason that he is getting functional but not beautiful football, out of the National Team. IF we would entrust ALL of the youngsters that he has at his disposal, then I would say, he would be a good appointment. For example, why use Wesley Sneijder as a number ten, when he is not as dynamic as Maher is now??? And why wouldn’t he use Jordy Clasie in midfield??? Is it because he ISN’T his own man, and is pandering to the likes of Sneijder and Van der Vaart??? If he isn’t using them now, then he probably won’t use them in the World Cup Finals, making it look a pretty dull and familiar side in midfield and attack. He NEEDS to be A LOT BRAVER!!! I like that he is utilizing the younger players in defense, BUT if he were to play 4-3-3 and use some of the younger players in midfield and attack, he would get the football he desires, in my opinion. Playing a number 10, who is stuck in the middle, HARDLY EVER gets you total football, as you are relying on one person to make a lot of the plays and passes towards the striker. This is why I DO NOT like the 4-2-3-1 formation. Yes it works, but it isn’t pleasing to the eye at all. For me, having experience in a side like the Dutch National Team, IS a mistake, because this generation of players have only experienced failure and underachievement. They have either been too busy fighting, or too busy being selfish to warrant further faith in what they can and cannot deliver, in my estimation. TA, you know WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY more than I do about Dutch Football, and probably football in general, so I’m probably waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay wrong on this one…I just don’t think I like Van Gaal as a manager enough to entrust him with the Arsenal.

  • Hi Milo, in Dutch it is Cruijff, but the ‘ij’ is often changed to the more familiar ‘y’. I don’t know why, but feel free to use both variants! 😛

  • Van Gaal is 62 I think, I can’t see him taking over from Wenger in the future. Also, Wenger moving ‘upstairs’ is a recipe for disaster regardless who takes over from him. The new manager can’t have Wenger constantly looking over his shoulder, he needs the freedom to make the team his own. If you want to stay in the Total football mode of play the obvious candidate to take over from Wenger is van Gaal’s Crown Prince, Frank de Boer. I’d love him to take over from Wenger next summer. However, looking at Ajax, for him to be successful there’d have to be big changes in the Board as well, more an Ajax model with many ex-players on the BOD. Maybe he can bring Overmars? Oh, and Dennis as his assistant of course.

  • Hi Milo,

    He is using Sneijder because he is a very experienced player, but he has also given Maher a few opportunities recently. Same goes for Clasie, and remember that Strootman is a young, up and coming talent as well. You have to see it as a work in progress: Van Gaal is using a lot of different players and he also wants to build a strong sense of unity in the Dutch camp. Not easy, but if anybody can do it, it’s him right now. Van Gaal wants to qualify first and build a top team in the process: watch this space! 🙂

  • Hi John, Van Gaal is a healthy man and can manage easily another five years or more, and then Dennis can take over 😛

    I am not a big fan of De Boer as a manager, but he is young and could still come good.

  • This guy could get the gunners challenging again.His track record is impressive. He puts the accent on winning,ugly if needed unlike Wenger. If the gunners fail to fail to secure 4th,sponsors may play hard ball.
    The latest on Addidas,if true,speaks for itself. A successful club will have sponsors fighting to capitalize on the Arsenal brand. Equally an un successful club will have to pay for not being in the cl.

  • Quite difficult to understand how you can not be a fan of de Boer as Manager but I’m only following Dutch football from a distance so you’ll probably know something I don’t. From what I read about him, he is a trainer in the mould of Michels-Cruijff-van Gaal-Guardiola and he is generally seen as one of the up and coming managers in Europe. As said though, he wouldn’t fit in the present set up of Arsenal and there’d have to be some big changes in the BOD. Which, IMO, can only be a good thing.

  • Hi John, I only follow Ajax from a distance and it is one of the clubs I would like to do well, without being a supporter of them.

    De Boer has done well in the Eredivisie, but a very good Ajax manager gets his teams to compete better in Europe, and until now something has been missing in that respect. The latest UEFA cup exit was a bit embarrassing.

    Van Gaal is so much better than De Boer and, in my view, would be a great replacement for Arsene once he decides to leave.

    Agreed on the need to make some changes at BoD level.

  • Very good post TA and from what you have said he seems like a good successor to Wenger.

    Regarding Louis Van Gaal I have not really followed his teams as he has never managed a team in the Prem.

    Would you say he is like Swansea Manager Michael Laudrup in terms of style of football?

  • Hi AFC,

    He is incredibly fanatic about everything he does. Van Gaal has that unique combination of both great vision AND ferocious attention to detail. He will drive players crazy with his tactical analysis and feedback to them, but slowly but steadily he will get a team to play like a machine. He is a mad genius and the big BoD egos at clubs like Barca and Bayern could not really deal with him.

    I like Laudrup but I reckon he is more laissez-fair in his approach to TF than van Gaal.

  • Thanks for clearing that up for me TA.

    He has would be the perfect fit for Arsenal considering all of the top clubs and countries he has managed. I am often worried when there is speculation over who could replace Wenger as I do not want a manager managing Arsenal who is not experiened, has not won things and has not managed the top clubs and countries and most importantly does not play attractive football TF but I would be happy for him to manage Arsenal if Wenger went.

  • Quick International Arsenal update:

    A goal for Giroud today against Georgia (no Koz), clean sheet for Mertesacker in Kazakhstan, 45 minutes for Cazorla then substituted, Szczesny on the bench for Poland, Ox a good goal, Ramsey scored a pen but also got two yellow cards, Rosicky only played last 30 minutes and his nation got humbled at home by the Danes (0-3), Vermaelen played 90 minutes and got a clean sheet against Macedonia away,

  • Thanks for the update TA.

    Only thing I don’t understand is why the Ox was even playing in that match. He was not needed against the lowest team in the FiFA ranking (San Marino) and could have got injured which would have been a blow for us.

  • I guess that goes for all players, AFC. He seemed to relish it though. Looking at him again today, for just a few minutes, made me think again what his best position eventually will be. What do you reckon?

  • I think his best position will be playing either as an LAM/RAM. In a 4-2-3-1 where he can interchange postions with the other AMs. When he plays as a LW/RW or LM/RM I feel that this takes away his creativity and ability to get into good attacking positions between the defense and midfield leaving him with just his pace to try and get past players.

    Cannot really tell his best position from that match as the opposition was dire. At times San Marino looked like a semi-pro team from the 30 mins I watched.

    TA, I think even if me and you were playing in that match we would have looked decent and for me that’s saying a lot. Ha!!!

  • Totally meaningless game, AFC, but nothing we can do about it. Now I have a dodgy knee I would not fancy my chances much, but with you in the team we’ll win easily! 😀

    Agreed on Ox. I reckon he would be ideal in behind Giroud in a 4-4-2 with Cazorla and the Pod on the wing and Jack and a beast of a DM in the middle.

  • The thing about the Ox is that he can play in a number of different positions and perform well in them. I think if he was taught how to defend he would even do a job as an ultra- attacking RB.

  • The real questions are whether he would come and AW step aside after next year and whether he could get along with the BOD and Gazidis as well as Kroenke. He would NOT tolerate the AAA and booboys that have polluted our Club, nor would he accept a lot of the constraints Wenger deals so well with. I don’t see him as a fit in the EPL but who knows?

  • Yeah, I suppose he can’t just throw all the young players out there at the same time, and lose the veterans that he wants to remain in the squad, due to a lack of playing time. I just thought that the last fixture was crying out for a few changes. Especially in attacking midfield. I have no problem with Jonathan De Guzman, but I don’t think he offers quite as much as Clasie can, at his very best.

    Incidentally, I have always seen Oxlade Chamberlain as a central attacking midfielder. I think he can play anywhere though. Even defensive midfield. It was against inferior opposition, but if you cast your mind back to pre-season, he played a holding role with Coquelin in a couple of matches and absolutely bossed it!!! I really do like the idea of EVENTUALLY having him with Wilshere, and a beast in the middle. Chamberlain would take Cazorla’s place, but only in a few season’s time, I stress!!! I have gotten terrible flack, on other sites, from saying that he should play in the middle, but I stick to that theory. He will only improve, and he really does have a cannon of a right boot on him, doesn’t he??? 😀

  • Sorry Totes, I find the digression about where the Ox should/could play more interesting than the blog. Which is a bit like choosing your next wife before you have even got a divorce, or worse, bumped her off? Please, let’s wait and see if you can settle your differences amicably before you make a terrible mistake?

    On the Ox, from the little I saw of the match, it looked like he played the the rehearsal for the role in and around Giroud that I suggested a couple of weeks back?

  • Hi Gerry,

    You might have missed the essence of the post this time. I am trying to point out that there is a different way of managing TF at Arsenal; one that would fit us better than the current one.

  • TA – You may well be talking of the ‘new’ housewife making a better/alternative way of cleaning the house … but you still haven’t got the divorce! ha ha

    In this context.are you seriously looking for a new wife now … and does she get a say in the matter?

  • Morning all. Nice post Total.

    It’s really strange when you start to think of life without Arsene as our manager.

    I know I have been saying its the last chance saloon this summer for him, but when I start thinking about replacements I wonder who can/would take us onwards.

    There is not a single guy who jumps out at me.

    Hope I don’t have to face that at the start of next season. Let’s pray he buys Isco (to keep that nuisance in Cornwall quiet) Wanyama and Centre forward (?). Not a lot to ask for I suppose.

  • Haha Gerry, can you imagine Arsene on the Board responsible for the linkage between club and fans, and helping Van Gaal (or another manager) with player purchases, say from 2014 onwards? The house is big enough for a new wife and promoting the old wife to the top floor might be what both parties want! 😛

    But then again next year might be the big turnaround year and the old wife might get herself a new licence…

  • Morning Vickers 🙂

    It is a big question indeed, and we should prepare ourselves for it, as it could happen this summer, or the next one. For me, the club should now stick with a TF approach; it fits our image and financial model, and has brought us success in the past. There are managers out there who could continue what Arsene has build up for us and possibly improve. For me Van Gaal is the safest bet from a footballing point of view, but he is not easy to fit in (weedonald made some good point about this).

    But I also really like what Klopp is doing at Dortmund, and let’s see what Laudrup will do in his second season at the Jacks. Rijkaard could also be an option, and of course, like everybody else, I am hoping Dennis will retrun home soon. 🙂

  • Hi, all! 🙂

    Van Gaal’s Ajax were invincible. They were so good that they could afford themselves to score two goals at Santiago Bernabeu that referee didn’t allow and still win the game comfortably. (Same thing happened to Ajax last season against the same opponent but it was far more expensive robbery as Real won 3:0.)

    Van Gaal’s Barcelona played very entertaining football and won Primera in 1997-98 (Real won Champions’ League) after selling Ronaldo to Inter and in 1998-99 but suffered from defensive flaws which cost them heavy defeats against Dynamo Kyiv (3:0 and 4:0) in 1997-98 and Bayern in 1998-99 in Group Stage and failed to win Primera in 1999-2000 (Deportivo won with the lowest score ever in three-points-for-victory-era, I think) despite having players like Kluivert, Figo and Rivaldo in attack. His Bayern won domestic double in 2010 and lost to strong Inter side led by Mourinho in Champions’ League Final.

    Personally, I’d prefer Klopp over Van Gaal.

    Regarding Oxlade-Chamberlain, I believe he has what it takes to become our Wayne Rooney in terms of footballing quality (not ugliness). He just has to dedicate himself to football and forget all those reality shows until he is 40. His energy, pace and technical abilities are very exciting. Too bad we didn’t sign Zaha – seeing Ox, Zaha and Theo in our attack would be long-term satisfaction.

  • Admir….like many players recently, Arsene missed the boat with Zaha.

    I hope he doesn’t miss the boat this summer. We need three top, top quality players,then we will compete with the big boys I’m sure.

    This summer he has no excuse regarding money, so lets give him space and see what he does.

    If he persists on being frugal and acquiring second rate cheap options, then for me it would be time to say ….adios …auf vedersein…..chow……si anara (?)….good bye. 😦

  • It would be Remi Garde for me. He is currently the manager at Lyon (2nd in Ligue), a former player previously recommended by Arsene himself to join us, together with Vieira, in 1996 (same year as the manager himself). He has worked as Director of the Centre Tola Vologe, Lyon’s youth training center.

    Garde’s current contract also ends in June 2014. He might bring along some of Lyon’s better players (Maxime Gonalons, Clement Grenier, Dejan Lovren, Bakary Kone, Samuel Umtiti, Alexandre Lacazette etc).

    Side note:
    Norwich agree deal for Sporting Lisbon’s Ricky van Wolfswinkel (set to arrive on July 1 on a four-year contract)

  • Italians say ‘ciao’ and my puppy eats ‘chow’. hahaha

    Hi BKrs. Top post Total. You mention Total football with freedom for self expression. Somehow i think that Arsene has curbed this way of thinking this season and even last season, for the sake of qualifying for European proper. I believe we currently play within ourselves for the sake of fitting into the system to achieve results. Had Arsenal achieved silverware in any stage in the last 8 yrs, we would be watching a different Arsenal team, where patience is afforded and flair would become common practise. The current Arsenal team seems almost robotic.

    Van Gaal could do a job. He is a household name in world football and is well respected. I also believe he would have great pulling power (stop it Glic 😉 ) in the Dutch market and i am currently impressed with the talent coming through and being developed. They must smoke some good shit over there 😆

    Could Arsene and Van Gaal work together at the same club? Why not, but each day i doubt more and more whether or not Arsene would be interested in going upstairs.

  • If Arsene was to go upstairs than our future manager would have to be a very stong ego himself imo. It couldnt work if it was an up an comer like De Boer. On the other hand if it was somebody who had exactly the same beliefs and philosophy as Arsene, both in the market and on the pitch, than it could work ala Dragan Stojkovic ‘Piksi’

    I agree Total. Any manager that comes to us in the future would have to play and believe in Total football. Its our trademark and in our dna for years to come.

  • TA – I know I gave a flippant answer this morning, because personally I am not looking at Arsenal without AW right now.

    So here is my considered view. Somebody of Van Gaal’s personality would not only not want AW ‘upstairs’, he would not want any of his backroom staff either. He would want a clean slate, which means many players would likely leave?

    My alternative, and yes, it does to a large extent depend on him succeeding next season … with whoever he buys, even if that means star names do not cross our threshold in this TW.
    If that is the case then I would like the BoD to give him a 2 year extension so he can see the fruits of the developing youth stars reach their potential. At the same time, take on board Dennis B, as assistant manager if that can be achieved with Bould’s blessing, and that pair take the club forwards from 2017 onwards.

    No disruption, No change in philosophy. Just a smooth transfer of power in a dignified way.

    That way you keep ‘the Arsenal’ at the very heart of the club?

  • Hi Gerry, I respect your point of view and do not necessarily disagree with you.

    However, if Van Gaal would want changes to the backroom staff then so be it; nothing wrong with that in itself. Why would he not want Arsene at BoD level; that is just a view on your side, Gerry. I very much doubt that the arrival of Van Gaal would lead to departures of key players against the club’s wishes.

    Let’s not be scared of change or disruption; as long as the philosophy of the club stays in tact – which Van Gaal would be able to deliver – we should always look at ways of improving things further.

    I love Wenger and what he has done for us, and I am not giving up on him. I reckon Van Gaal approach to TF is a better option for us long term: the focus is a lot more on the system of play and players fitting into that, rather than relying heavily on having a number of world class stars into the team.

  • Hi PPP,

    Great comments. And you’re spot re curbing his way of thinking. He stills wants to play TF, but with all the changes, he did not have enough time to properly prepare the team and had to adjust instead.

    Arsene really needs a transfer-out free summer (of key players) and add a couple early on and then have a couple of months together to get it right again.

  • Before PPP answers, two videos about Piksi’s skills. 🙂

    I doubt any current Premiership managers (except, maybe, Laudrup) could repeat any of this.

    There were reports Stojković would be Wenger’s favourite once when Wenger leaves Arsenal bench. Stojković played for Crvena Zvezda (Red Star), Olympique Marseille and Verona before going to Japan where he played under Wenger. One of the greatest Yugoslavian and Serbian players ever.

  • Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes 45-year old Dragan Stojković would be the perfect successor for when he decides to retire as Arsenal’s manager.

    The Frenchman is quoted as saying by Vecernje Novosti that there are “a hundred reasons” why the Nagoya Grampus manager – nicknamed Piksi – would do well in the English Premier League as they both understand football in the same way; quick passing and attacking football.

    Wenger explained that the former Red Star Belgrade striker travels to London once a year and how they meet to chat and “outsmart each other”.

    Awarded the J. League Manager of the Year award after leading his side to the J. League title, Stojkovic scored more than 150 goals as a player with Wenger saying how if he transmits his football imagination to his players, he can become one of the best managers in the game.

    On his successor, the Arsenal boss said:

    I’d love Piksi [Stojkovic’s nickname] to be my successor There are a hundred reasons for that. His football philosophy is almost identical to mine. Our ideas are the same and we both strive for perfect football.

    I knew he was going to have his teams playing attacking football with many passes. He has done that, showing he will be a great coach. I told him that if he could transmit his football imagination to his players he would fly high.

    Dragan comes to London at least once a year. We meet up, chat and try to outsmart each other. It’s a great achievement for him to have won a championship. I was a coach in Japan for two years and didn’t manage it even though I had Piksi, who was the best player in the league, in my team.

    This was in 2011, but they still keep in close contact.
    Of course some backroom staff could well stay on such as Boro Primorac who is the main man behind Wenger at Arsenal.

    Unfortunately this brings up the old ‘But he is not experienced in EPL or UCL’ and to that i would counter that neither was Arsene Wenger, besides the building blocks are in place and the only way is up. I also believe that the board will be looking for a manager who can also work within a tight budget without setting us back 5 yrs if a signing goes pear shaped.

    Ps Just watched a clip of Piksis’ skills when he played for Crvena Zvezda vs AC Milan….. Amazing! Id post it up but you know me and technology

  • Hey Admir, kako si?

    Thanks for posting the vid. Odakle si iz Bosne?

  • I dug up everything i could find and stole it. Good read though i doubt most of you will get through it 🙂

    Dragan Stojković was born on 3 March 1965, and is one of the finest players ever to emerge from the former Yugoslavia. Nicknamed “Piksi” after a cartoon character from his childhood, Stojković made his name with hometown team Radnički Niš before establishing himself as one of Europe’s best creative midfielders with Crvena Zvezda of Belgrade in the late 1980s. He is one of five individuals to have been named Zvezdina Zvezda (a Star of the Star).

    A move to Bernard Tapie’s Marseille followed a quarter-final appearance with Yugoslavia at the 1990 World Cup, but injuries hampered his time in France and he left four years later to join Nagoya Grampus Eight in the fledgling J. League. Stojković went on to become one of the greatest players the Japanese game has ever seen before retiring in 2001, and after stints as president of the Yugoslav football federation and Zvezda, he returned to Grampus as manager in 2008. In 2010, he led the club to its first J. League title in 2010. He still lives in the same apartment he did as a player.

    How would you describe your philosophy as a manager?

    My philosophy of football is to be very simple and easy, but at the same time it’s not easy. If you want to be a good manager you have to be psychologically ready. If you look at the managers today at the head of the biggest teams in the world, they all have very strong charisma and personality but also knowledge. It’s very important to have enjoyment. If you think that being a manager is your job, your work, it’s not good. You have to find enjoyment because you teach the players for one reason, and that is to see improvement. Football has changed a lot in the last 10, 15 years. Today’s football is completely different to the past, thanks to technology, thanks to other parameters. It’s very important to understand that and, if you don’t, you’ll be in trouble.

    What kind of football do you like your teams to play?

    I like to see my teams play attractive football, football that people like to see. From the first day when I became manager of Nagoya I told my players one very clear thing. I said, “I don’t know about the result, because I am not magic. What I know is that I want to see my team play beautiful football.” This is the target and then we wait for the result. Beautiful football means being very attractive, offensive, giving enjoyment to the supporters, giving real football to the audience. We reached that target in the first year [2008], when we played some very interesting football. Why is the Premier League said to be the best league in the world today? It’s because all the teams play attractive football. Even Blackpool or Wigan, they play really interesting football. They never give up, they always have a strong mentality to win the game, and people love to see that. I want people to go home after the game and say, “Yes, Nagoya lost the game, but they played really well.” That is the satisfaction.

    As a player you often looked frustrated with teammates who weren’t as good as you, and last year, after Grampus had lost a game, you said that your team needed a player who was intelligent like you. How do you get your message across?

    This is the most difficult task. You have to understand one thing, and that is what kind of quality you have in your hands and how to manage that. How to get the maximum out of a player who is, let’s say, limited. This is the job of a manager. For me the most important thing in football is football intelligence. How you are able to use a situation to make a profit for yourself and your team. When you compare two high-level players, you can see the difference because one of them is always able to do something incredible because he has football intelligence. Messi is physically nothing, but every time he can find the solution. He never dribbles just to dribble, he dribbles to get a result. Football intelligence is the most important technique. Players have to prove their intelligence on the pitch when the team is leading 1-0 or if it is a draw or if they are losing. In any situation. If you are playing in the last minute and you are leading 1-0, don’t go too fast. In Europe you can see that always because the players are very intelligent, but in Japan it is not like that. They still don’t know how to use this advantage. They start the game and finish the game with practically the same pace.

    Your ideas about football have drawn a lot of comparisons with Arsène Wenger. What is your relationship with him?

    It’s perfect. I was very lucky to be under his control in 1995-96 when he was manager of Nagoya, and this experience for me was really good because for the first time I started to work with great pleasure and confidence. I started to understand tactical behaviour. I started to understand modern football. As a result of that, in 1995 he became J. League manager of the year even though we were only second, and I was player of the year. We stay in contact and even today our relationship is really great. I go to London to see games and meet him and talk.

    You first worked with Wenger at Nagoya in 1995, but you were already 30 years old by then. What was it about him that made such a big impression?

    I remember we had a training camp, and on the last day I asked him, “When do we start the camp?” Of course I was joking, but that camp from the physical point of view was very good for me. I worked hard, but at the same time I was very light. I was not tired. I was really ready to play, and that 1995 season was amazing. I liked his philosophy of football, I liked the exercises. All training was with the ball. I never had any training without the ball. You can find many coaches who work without the ball and this is absolutely unacceptable to me. The ball is the main thing for the players. From the physical point of view, you can also do it with the ball. It’s not all about running and trying to kill the players. I don’t like that. I don’t like to see my player after training saying that he is dead tired. This is not my target.

    Are there any areas where your philosophies differ?

    I don’t know his situation with goalkeepers. But he continues to believe. I told him last time that the problem for Arsenal was goalkeepers. He could find a good goalkeeper. It’s a big problem for Arsenal, but he still believes that he is right. He also needs a real striker, who is expensive of course. Van Persie is not a real striker, Arshavin is not a real striker. Adebayor was a real striker but they decided to sell him for a lot of money. Arsenal get a lot of benefits from his coaching from a financial point of view.

    Who else has influenced you in football?

    Today I have a very good relationship with Ancelotti. He also has a very similar philosophy with training, systems, everything.

    You also played under Ivica Osim for Yugoslavia at the 1990 World Cup. What did you learn from him?

    At that time we had a very good generation and we were very close to making a historical result, even to play in the final. I respect him a lot and he was a coach who had a very good relationship with the players. He joked a lot and tried to relax the players and get the maximum out of them. We had quality of course, and the relationship between us was very successful.

    How close do you think you came to winning the World Cup?

    We were very close because we won against Spain, who were heavily favoured and had great players. We lost to Argentina, who were the world champions. We played with 10 men [after Refik Šabanadzović had been sent off in the 30th minute] and we created several chances to score. They were lucky to get 0-0. If you can play like that with 10 men against Argentina, of course you are able to do more. Unfortunately we lost on penalties but that’s football, and we finished practically as the fifth-best team at the World Cup. That was already a good result but we had a chance to do something more.

    That World Cup came as things were getting very tense in Yugoslavia. Did that tension have any effect on the players?

    I don’t think so. We had our preparation in Zagreb and we played against Holland in a friendly. The home supporters started to sing songs against us, and for Holland. It was very strange to see and hear, and the Holland coach Leo Beenhakker in the press conference said he didn’t know that Holland had so many supporters there. Afterwards someone explained to him that it was against us. At that point we saw that something would happen, but on the team there were no problems. We had Prosinečki from Croatia, Pančev from Macedonia, Sušić from Bosnia, Katanec from Slovenia, me from Serbia, Savićević from Montenegro. We never had these kinds of problems and we never discussed or joked about it.

    The World Cup came only one month after a riot in a match between Dinamo Zagreb and Crvena Zvezda. How did it feel to be caught up in that?

    We were first in the table and Dinamo Zagreb were second, and we were almost champions. I was Zvezda’s captain and during the warm-up I saw that the stand behind our goal just collapsed and the people started to run onto the pitch. I called the players and said let’s go back to the dressing room, because nobody can stop that kind of stampede. We ran to the dressing room and stayed there for five or six hours. After we saw what had happened and that Boban had kicked a policeman. He became a hero for Croatian people but he was suspended for a year and he missed the World Cup. At about nine or ten we went home with the police. It was a terrible time.

    How do you think the war has affected Serbian football? Not just in terms of money and infrastructure, but in terms of the way the game is played?

    We lost everything. We were a strong team, but a team is like a puzzle. You need pieces to put it together, but it was destroyed. From that point we lost a lot. But that was the price of the situation in Yugoslavia. That region has a lot of talent, from many sports. Tennis was not so interesting for us in the past but now we have great players. Basketball, water polo, volleyball – we are very talented. Now we continue to play good football but it’s difficult because after the Bosman rule started it became very hard to keep talented players. The clubs need money. They have no choice but to sell the players.

    Serbian and Yugoslavian football has a history of drama and highs and lows. Do you think this reflects the Serbian psyche, and do you think this is true of you?

    We always pay a high price for bad organisation. I mean organisation from the outer structure. As a team there was no problem, but it was what was happening all around. Who protects you? Who leads you? This is the main problem, even today. Many people don’t want to accept responsibility. This is something in our mentality and we have to show more improvement. Who is on the plane, who is in the hotel? There is no feeling of responsibility and no professional mindset. People don’t do their jobs, they want to do something different. They don’t know how to do it, but they put their noses in the wrong place. This is the problem of that region. The president of the FA doesn’t qualify for the World Cup – the players qualify for the World Cup. They want to put themselves on the front page. I am for the front page, you are not. When you find your picture behind, this is your victory. If you don’t understand, it’s a problem. Organisation, preparation is the main problem. It’s not like Japan.

    How do you feel having lost the prime years of your international career because of the ban on the Yugoslavia team? What do you think you could have achieved at Euro 92, the 1994 World Cup and Euro 96?

    Nobody can give me that time back. This is destiny. We couldn’t change it and we just wanted to play football, but the United Nations sanctions against Yugoslavia reflected on our team also. We were kicked out from 1992, 1994 and 1996, so three huge competitions for one player is too much. We were a very talented generation and we had very good players. In 1992 Denmark replaced us and became champions. It’s very difficult to give any predictions of what might have happened. Maybe we would have been champions and maybe not. But we would have played a very important role. After one week of preparation in Sweden we received a fax that we would have to go home. It was a terrible time. Some players cried or had stomach problems.

    How did you feel leaving Yugoslavia to join Marseille?

    Of course we are professionals and my contract with Zvezda was finishing. I was looking for a new challenge and many top clubs in Europe wanted me. Finally I decided to go to Marseille because I saw a very strong team and a very ambitious president who wanted to win the European Cup. That for me was very important because Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus were not so strong. When I signed a pre-contract with Marseille, AC Milan phoned me to ask if it was true. They called Marseille to try to cancel it, but Marseille said no. Unfortunately I injured my knee and after that it was very difficult for me. Of course I was the best player there. Definitely. I respected all the players, but I felt superior. Of course I missed my friends, my city and my country, but I was very focused on a new challenge, a new life and a Western style of life. Everything was new for me, but I was really motivated.

    When Zvezda finally won the European Cup in 1991, you were on the losing team. What emotions went through your head that night?

    I couldn’t believe it. On my last day at Zvezda we had cocktails at the club because I was a legend, I was the captain, etc, and they said good luck. My last words were thank you very much for everything, I wish you all the best and I’ll see you in the final. They laughed. We played the semi-final first leg in Moscow [against Spartak] and we won 3-1. We arrived at the airport and I asked someone what happened in Munich between Bayern and Zvezda. The guy told me 2-1. I said OK, it’s a good result. Then he said, “2-1, but Zvezda won.” I said, “What? 2-1 for Zvezda in Munich?” I realised that Marseille and Zvezda really would play in the final. Emotionally, first of all you don’t believe that you are going to be on a different side to your friends and former teammates. But this is life. It was very hard for me to accept, but finally I was on the bench and I played only seven or eight minutes of extra time. I didn’t want to take a penalty [in the shoot-out, after the game had finished 0-0]. I said to Raymond Goethals when he chose me to take one that I didn’t want to take this responsibility against Zvezda. Other players have to take responsibility. It was the first European Cup for a team from our country, but at the same time I was sad because Marseille lost the final. I lost as a member of Marseille, but on the other hand I was happy to see Zvezda win. Two years later we beat AC Milan in Munich and we became champions, so sometimes in your life things happen that you could never imagine. But I think it was a mistake that I didn’t play in Bari. The Zvezda players were scared of me.

    Are you satisfied with what you achieved at Marseille?

    It was a difficult time. Mostly I was in the gym or the hospital, but this is life. It wasn’t a mistake for me to choose Marseille because I knew they had the best players. Cantona, Chris Waddle, Papin, Abédi Pelé, Boli, Casoni, Di Meco, Amoros, Carlos Mozer. An amazing team. But six months ago the Marseille supporters voted for the best team in 100 years of Olympique Marseille. I am there. It’s unbelievable. I played maybe 40-45 games in four years and they choose me. How can you explain that? They voted position by position and I was the number 10.

    What was it like to play for Bernard Tapie?

    He was very controversial, but I knew him as being crazy for football, crazy for success, crazy to create the best team in the world. As the boss of the club, definitely he was very good and nobody can say anything against him. From other points I don’t know what happened, but for the players and the team he did something very important and historic for Marseille and for French football. I like him very much. He’s a very interesting person, very clever and very charming. In Munich against AC Milan in the final he said we would win. He said, “Do you know why? Because I am looking better than Berlusconi.” And we won 1-0. He was a real boss. One on hand a very nice person, clever and intelligent, on the other hand a bandit. Two different faces.

    As a player, how did it feel to have Marseille’s achievements taken away after the match-fixing scandal?

    It was a difficult time again, of course. At the beginning I didn’t really know what happened because I wasn’t there. The problem was a game against Valenciennes, they had an investigation and they found something. It was a very bad time for the club and for us also. We were penalised to play in the second division for two years, out of the European cups and we didn’t play in the Intercontinental Cup. We knew that playing in the second division wasn’t good for the players and that a lot of players would leave. I received an offer from Nagoya and I was a little bit surprised. All I knew about Nagoya was that Gary Lineker played here. I said, “OK let’s go and see what it is,” because I didn’t want to play in the second division. I came to Japan and after that it’s history..

    What were your expectations of the J. League when you first signed for Grampus?

    It was completely new for me. My first contact was Gary Lineker, who tried to explain about Japanese football and about Japan. What I saw was tactically not good, they played with a high pace and it was not possible to play like that. You have to be calm, to save your energy for the rest of the game. I was a little bit disappointed at the beginning. I couldn’t communicate with the players. If I played a back pass they couldn’t understand it. I tried to explain that when I have a ball, everything is possible. Don’t be surprised. Run and the ball will come. Don’t watch me. Month by month we improved, and six months later Wenger came and our teamwork improved. People in Europe said Stojković is a good player but he is injured. It was hard to prove to people that I was OK. I wanted to forget my injury and restart my football life, and I found that in Japan.

    A lot of famous players moved to the J. League in the 90s, but most came at the end of their careers and left after one or two years. Why did you stay for so long?

    I feel good here, first of all. My wife and children feel good and I find the people very respectful. This is not the case in Europe. I found stability and space to do everything. For that reason I decided to stay, and in football I saw improvement. I like the behaviour of the supporters, and of course my challenge was always to show my technical quality to everybody. I was never satisfied to say it’s enough and now I can relax. I always wanted to teach the players and help them improve. There were many reasons why I stayed here.

    How has Japanese football grown over the last 20 years?

    When you see football you have to see technique and you have to see tactics. The physical point of view is not something you need to talk about. If you want to play football then physically you have to be ready. But from the technical and tactical point of view you can see the improvement. If you see the result of the national teams, the Japanese players who play abroad, it becomes very interesting. It’s amazing for a country like Japan to have representatives around the world. The teams have become stronger, well organised. Today in the J. League you can’t say that only two teams can play for the title. In Spain, yes, in Italy also, but in the J. League there are many teams who can win the title. I don’t know if it’s good or not, but it’s a fact. It means that all the teams have a level of organisation and quality. Improvement is there, definitely. It’s not the same football as 10 years ago.

    Japan is known for taking elements of other cultures and piecing them together, and this is also true of Japanese football. Do you think Japanese football now has its own identity?

    It was very necessary in the beginning to bring big names from around the world to show to the public, and also to bring in managers. Today I think, little by little, the Japanese have started to find their identity. It’s almost 20 years since the professional league started, and after 20 years you have to see some results. I think Japan has a football identity, but they shouldn’t be satisfied with the result and they need to continue to improve. Of course it’s very nice to see one of the best managers in the world, Zaccheroni, to see how he manages the team. Football is an international sport. It’s a mix of culture, language, skin colour. It would be a big mistake to copy somebody. You have to be yourself. Of course you have to see which style of football you like. Before it was a South American style under Zico and now it’s a European style under Zaccheroni, so it’s a very good experience for the Japanese national team. But they have to be what they are and I think that they are. It’s important to understand the Japanese mentality. If you don’t understand that it’s better to take your bag and go back home.

    What do you think are the strong and weak points of Japanese football?

    The discipline is one of the main characteristics of the Japanese players. They follow the directions of the coach. They do everything they are told in the dressing room. They never disappoint you, and there is a huge level of respect. The weak point is from the physical point of view. They’re not so strong. If you see a team like Blackpool, all the players’ physical engagement is incredible, but the Japanese players don’t have this. But this is the nation. The people are like that. The physical point is very important today looking at international level, and they need more physical power to resist the opponent and be more determined in the box. People say they don’t have a striker and maybe that’s true. But Barcelona don’t have a striker. Japan is definitely a team that plays technical football. This is the main point for them.

    Do you feel you have a responsibility to Japanese football?

    I try always to do my best, as a player and today as a coach. I always try to be a good example. Of course I am not the person who is the most responsible, but I feel I have a responsibility. I think this is good. Without responsibility it is difficult to exist. If the people respect my work and my message, this is a big pleasure for me. I know when I am alone in my house, I know I am doing something good for people. When I look in the mirror I know that. I don’t need somebody to say, “Hey Piksi, thank you for doing this.” I know exactly what I am doing.

    What are your ambitions for the future?

    In football many things change very quickly. In one night everything can change. But at this moment I am very focused on my job in Nagoya. We achieved a nice result last year and my consideration is now to see what we can do this season. People ask me when will I go back to Europe, but I’m here. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I’m still here and I will show my loyalty to the club until the end. I feel comfortable, I feel good and I feel that I have space to teach the players, to build the team and build the club. One day maybe to become national team coach, yes. If they think that I can help, if they think I can deliver something more to Japanese football, yes, I am ready. It would be a very big honour for me to lead the national team. For me it’s important that I have spent 10, 11 years in Japan and I understand the mentality and the people here. I know them and this is a big advantage.

    This article by Andrew McKirdy appears in Issue Two of The Blizzard, which is out now. All issues of The Blizzard are available to download for PC/Mac, Kindle and iPad on a pay-what-you-like basis from as little as 1p per issue, and are also available in hard-copy. The Blizzard is a 190-page quarterly publication that allows writers the opportunity to write about the football stories that matter to them, with no limits and no editorial bias.

    Find out more at, or follow on Twitter @blzzrd.

  • It is snowing and bitterly cold here in the UK; so let’s put another log on the fire and another blog on Bergkampesque! 🙂

    Marcus has written a fine analysis about OG: how can we can the best out of him at Arsenal? Over to you! 🙂

  • TA, another fantastic article on BK! You gave me some insight on Van Gaal that I may not have previously had, in terms of specific tactics. I’ve always questioned his personality and he’s always struck me as the ultimate “my way or the highway” type of manager. There’s a perception that he constantly rubs players/people the wrong way and it would certainly be a stark contrast to our current manager.

    I’m not disagreeing with you on Van Gaal as a suitable candidate to replace Wenger, since he has the credentials to support his case. The idea of playing structured TF would be interesting and perhaps be the discipline that this squad needs to bring them to the next level. AW is often criticized for being too paternal and nurturing when some players probably respond better to a kick in the arse!

  • Hi HH,

    Cheers for the kind feedback.

    Yes Arsenal would play with more discipline and structure. One of the additional adavantages of VG’s TF approach is that a team suffers significantly less if and when players get injured or suspended (unlike Arsenal in recent years).

  • Hi TA, 🙂

    Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed your Post.

    Writing quality articles is a bit like shelling peas for you, I think!! 🙂

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