It was always going to be a fascinating subplot of the Premier League season...
It was always going to be a fascinating subplot of the Premier League season: A highly regarded Dutchman taking his first coaching job in English football at a team in need of an overhaul. The focus of the story was supposed to be Louis van Gaal at Manchester United F.C.
Yet, Van Gaal has been upstaged somewhat by Ronald Koeman, who was faced with a similar task in his first season at Southampton following the departure of a slew of the club’s top players – and is faring better than his compatriot.
Southampton is a point above United ahead of Monday’s game between the third- and fourth-place teams in the Premier League. And that will give satisfaction to Koeman, given his recent history with Van Gaal.
Van Gaal gave Koeman his coaching break at club level when he hired the former Netherlands defender as his assistant at Barcelona in 1998. The pair’s relationship turned sour six years later, though, after Van Gaal was appointed as sporting director at Dutch club Ajax, where Koeman was coach. They fell out and Van Gaal quit his position, three weeks after a public disagreement with Koeman.
Since then, Van Gaal has described Koeman as ”weak” in his authorized biography.
It adds some spice to the match at St. Mary’s Stadium, although the pair attempted to play down the rivalry on Friday.
”The game is Southampton vs. Manchester United,” Koeman said. ”The game needs that attention, not the attention about both managers. That is private. It was a working problem. I think I have to explain it like that. It’s not an issue, it was eight or nine years ago.”
Asked if how his relationship with Van Gaal is, Koeman said: ”If we see each other, we shake hands. And that’s enough.”
Van Gaal said his thoughts about Koeman will remain ”private.”
”We play against Southampton. We have to speak about Southampton and not about the trainer-coach,” Van Gaal said.
The teams come into the game heading in opposite directions. After a strong start to the season, Southampton has lost its last two games – against Manchester City and Arsenal – and could be overtaken by United if it loses a third in a row on Monday.
United, meanwhile, is in its best run of form in Van Gaal’s short tenure and heads to the south coast seeking a fifth straight win.
”It was difficult at the start of the season,” Koeman said of United, ”but they are on their way back. It will be a nice challenge for us.”
Southampton’s task will be even harder because Wayne Rooney is fit again for United after missing Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Stoke with a knee injury. Angel Di Maria is still missing.
Van Gaal was angered Friday by reports that United is prepared to give him about 100 million pounds ($155 million) to spend on players next year, with the club already having splashed out about $250 million on signings in the last offseason.
”I think it is disgusting always writing about numbers,” Van Gaal said.