The Louis van Gaal Way: 7 business lessons

epa04289241 Dutch coach Louis van Gaal gestures during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between the Netherlands and Mexico at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, 29 June 2014. (RESTRICTIONS APPLY: Editorial Use Only, not used in association with any commercial entity - Images must not be used in any form of alert service or push service of any kind including via mobile alert services, downloads to mobile devices or MMS messaging - Images must appear as still images and must not emulate match action video footage - No alteration is made to, and no text or image is superimposed over, any published image which: (a) intentionally obscures or removes a sponsor identification image; or (b) adds or overlays the commercial identification of any third party which is not officially associated with the FIFA World Cup) EPA/GEORGI LICOVSKI EDITORIAL USE ONLY

How ’bout that Louis van Gaal?

If things get tricky at the office today, the one question a manager should ask himself is: can I still switch goalies? Louis van Gaal’s actions in the last quarter final (NETH vs CRC) were – supposedly - ‘a stroke of genius’. He surprised many with replacing goalie Cillessen for Krul at the last minute. The rest is history.

This is how Van Gaal Works: willful and brilliant. What are the secrets behind the strategy the ever-presumptuous 62-year-old former gymnastics teacher launched a while ago as ‘The Van Gaal Way’? This is Management 101, Van Gaal-Style:

1. Rule out chance

One month before the World Championship startedtwo consultants, Jeroen Visscher and Jurgen Frumau from Leusden published a book on the manager and his method: ‘Louis van Gaal; How to build World Champions’. In their book, they review all of coach van Gaals’s interventions during the preparation for the World Cup: starting line-ups, subs, tactical changes.

The authors realize this: Van Gaal will do anything to rule out the possibility of luck. His method is crystal clear: in pro-sports, the players’ attitude and character traits are what matters. At the same time, they can be manipulated. Van Gaal chooses his players based on these factors and stimulates them towards improvement. What the world witnessed this past weekend had been stewing inside the coach’s head for weeks.

2. Have faith in a happy outcome. And embody that.

Van Gaal has implemented these wise words in his own way. Just compare the way he carries himself at the sidelines now withback when he managed Ajax in Amsterdam. Back then: continually jumping up and down, running onto the pitch, all agitated.

Now? He appears calm. Sits. Smiles vaguely.
Only now, based on his analysis after the match, is it clear that in his mind there was only one possible outcome: a win for the Dutchies. This attitude infatuates his players. If the boss keeps his cool when things heat up, the players will do the same. Luck is no longer part of the equation. Everything will be alright.

In short, all you wannabe managers: just remain calm when later today the board tells you to announce that reorganization or those 20-percent salary cuts. It´ll benefit you in the long run.

3. It’s not the best player who wins. It’s the best team.

When talking about his team, Louis van Gaal does not talk about the squad of 23 players. He is talking about the entire staff built around ‘Oranje’: running coaches, keepers’ trainers, scouts, physiotherapists, the head physician, even the cook and the ladies who serve coffee in the canteen. When he won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995, he planted that big ol´ silver Cup on top of a dryer and told the laundry ladies: “There, this is yours just as well.”

His message was clear: the people who wash the jerseys every day are just as important as the players and the managers. It’s not the best players that win, it’s the team.

4. Discipline is the foundation of success

Van Gaals’ started out as a gymnastics teacher. No doubt his students there remember him for his repeated emphasis on discipline and responsibility. As a soccer coach, these virtues are still that important. Discipline is the basis of success – and Van Gaal knows exactly which players need some fine-tuning.

Discipline, on the other hand, is an underrated part of success in business as well. Jim Collins, author of ‘Good to Great’, researched how exceptionally successful companies stand out from their competitors. A disciplined organizational structure is one of seven elements of success. Collins mentions acquiring the right people and keeping faith in success as well. All this fits into Van Gaal’s strategy perfectly.

5. Build your strategy on facts

Van Gaal strongly believes in analyzing matters based on facts, before he decides what tactics to apply. In this World Cup, The Netherlands stand out because of their fitness. A direct result of carefully tested training methods.

These days, companies willing to get in ‘better shape’ often focus on durability. The office that succeeds in how to explain – for instance – how their ‘green policy’ stands out, will reap the quickest results. Take Unilever, whose CEO Paul Polman successfully convinced the entire company to embrace the ambitious Sustainable Living Plan strategy: cutting their CO2 emission in half, while doubling their profits. Because he made the facts obvious, little internal discussion about the plan ensued.

6. Change, surprise and trust

Oranje needed to change. With Van Gaal, ‘change’ usually means radical change. Change is planned and supported by facts. Van Gaal keeps Faith in his plans – but he takes his opponents by surprise and causes confusion in the process. Just remember the look on coach Pinto’s face. Van Gaal’s only goal is this: winning the World Cup. Don’t be mistaken, dear manager: everything is aimed towards that goal.

From day one of preparation for this World Cup, Van Gaal trusted his players to be able to make a difference – as long as they are willing to follow his Van Gaal Method. This reflects the theory from the basic guide for managers: In Search Of Excellence (1982) by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman. The authors point out four elements for successful companies: a strong team spirit, perfect implementation of core tasks, clarity and credibility. All these elements can be found within the Van Gaal Way.

7. The complete human soccer player

Van Gaal sees more than sportsmen. He sees human beings, and treats his players that way. Extra attention is paid to players who just made the team. Van Gaal wants to get to know the man behind the soccer player: the son, the brother, the husband, the father.

The better he knows his players, the better he can respond to their strengths and weaknesses. To Van Gaal, all people are equal but each player is different. The complete human soccer player is key, he has declared repeatedly. The more the manager knows about the player he works with, the more that player will do for him. Loyalty is won that way.

Are you approaching your newbies like that? Don’t expect all of your peers to do so. But if The Netherlands win the World Cup, expect the Van Gaal Way to be the new norm. Anticipate now. And begin experimenting with one of the best parts of the method: substitute that goalie.

How to interview Van Gaal? Our friends at know the answer.

Vertaling: Welmoed Smith

    • Max Christern