The Manchester United manager has always fiercely defended his approach, correcting what he believes to be inaccuracies in reporting or questioning It has been labelled Louis van Gaal’s ‘Rafa Benitez moment’. The Manchester United manager was talking about facts when he produced a document detailing his side’s long-ball pass percentages ahead of the club’s clash with Burnley on Wednesday night. Van Gaal was responding to claims made by Sam Allardyce regarding the Old Trafford club’s style of play in search of an equaliser in the 1-1 draw with West Ham on Sunday. “I suppose in the end we couldn’t cope with long-ball United,” the Hammers boss said. “When you see overall the long ball and what is the percentage of that, then West Ham United have played 71 per cent of the long balls to the forwards and we 49%,” Van Gaal said, having launched into his analysis. “So, I give you this [dossier showing long balls attempted], also you can see the blue ones are the good ones, because long balls are mostly very difficult, which is why I began with the explanation of ball possession. When you have 62% ball possession you cannot play long balls only.” Benitez was also talking about facts. He took Sir Alex Ferguson to task over comments regarding fixture congestion and match official criticism while in the thick of a title race with United in 2009. He did not want to enter into mind games – only facts – and was armed with his own papers documenting a series of FA charges and Premier League scheduling. In 2009, Benitez was perceived to have launched into an ‘astonishing rant’. Liverpool, top of the Premier League table at the time, would go on to finish second – behind Ferguson’s United – owing to a string of draws and a defeat to Middlesbrough. His feud with the Scot persisted until the end of the season. But while that particular incident was adjudged to have played its part in the title run-in, this is par for the course for Van Gaal. During his lengthy career, the Dutchman has never shied away from defending himself from any line of questioning. “Is it me that’s smart, or are you that stupid?” he asked a journalist in 1996 after being pressed over the sales of Michael Reiziger and Edgar Davids while in charge of Ajax. After a winning run for Bayern Munich was ended by a draw with Nurnberg in February 2010, Van Gaal was quick to respond to suggestions that his side had taken their eye off the ball. “It is unbelievable you would say that,” he replied. “This was one of Bayern’s best performances this year. You saw that completely wrong. It is really unbelievable that you say this. Did you notice that Nurnberg had 11 players in their own half? Did we not have a very nice positioning game? Did we not create many chances? We did, but we did not convert them. And then you come along and say we played too cool.” Even during his short time in charge at Old Trafford, Van Gaal has had his clashes with the press. Prior to the signing of Victor Valdes, the former Barcelona boss grew frustrated fielding questions about the goalkeeper. “You are suggesting, and it’s a big mistake to do that as the media,” he said. “That’s why I’m always angry, because you are inventing stories. There are no stories. He is training here, I give him the possibility, and then we shall see.” The criticism and analysis of Van Gaal’s philosophy is also nothing new. He has persisted with a 3-5-2 formation but has sometimes admitted his players are not comfortable with that system. Switching to 4-4-2, he says, left him “twitching his ass” in the victory over QPR. Unsurprisingly, Van Gaal was expecting questions on long balls, of philosophy and style of play. He came armed to his press conference on Tuesday with the ammunition every statistics department in the Premier League can easily provide. Burnley boss Sean Dyche, meanwhile, dismissed the stigma attached to long-ball football before facing a team boasting hundreds of millions of pounds of talent. It is not the length of the pass, he said, but the quality and accuracy. “I find it incredible, the whole thing,” Dyche said. “I think back to my youth and a player then who was renowned was Glenn Hoddle. Was he renowned for playing five and 10-yard passes? No he wasn’t. Was Ronald Koeman renowned for playing five and 10-yard passes? He was marvelled at. “I’m looking at Man United’s team – I think they’re capable of playing the ball more than five or 10 yards, and probably accurately and probably with some style. I’m certainly not questioning whether they’re a long-ball side or not. I think it’s a bizarre debate.” The aforementioned Koeman says his long-standing Dutch adversary is ‘losing energy’ discussing tactics with the press. But, as Koeman knows better than most, Van Gaal is stubborn and headstrong. He will not let an argument over the length of a pass sway him from his philosophy – or his attempts to return United back to the top four.
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