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Argentina vs Netherlands Live: Rating and World Cup Updates

Published:

Dec. 9, 2022, 1:12 p.m. ET

Dec. 9, 2022, 1:12 p.m. ETCredit…Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Louis van Gaal, the veteran coach of the Netherlands, has long been thought to be one in all soccer’s most fearsome straight shooters: unapologetically blunt, consistently withering, wholly self-possessed. Van Gaal doesn’t suffer fools, and when van Gaal looks around, he believes he sees quite a number of them.

It was somewhat disconcerting then, a few weeks ago, to listen to him use a news conference to debate — at reasonable length — the genetic advantages of his mother’s “cherry-red cheeks,” which she retained, apparently, well into her old age. (The context of this shouldn’t be, even weeks later, entirely clear.)

Still, perhaps the 71-year-old van Gaal was just in an unusually good mood, feeling a little bit playful within the early days of the World Cup. He has, in spite of everything, made it clear that he’s in Qatar for the eminently serious business of attempting to develop into a world champion; there may be, he has said repeatedly, little or no point to entering competitions for those who aren’t going to attempt to win them. For van Gaal, that is business, not pleasure.

And yet, on Thursday afternoon, there he was again, sitting on a raised dais next to one in all his players — Memphis Depay, transformed into his manager’s foil — cracking jokes, offering asides, apparently having the time of his life. There was a gag about how good he looks for his age (this has been a leitmotif); one about his old sparring partner, Dick Advocaat, still working despite being “even older than me”; and one bit that ended with him offering to kiss Depay “on the mouth.” Van Gaal, hard because it is to imagine, is having fun.

That shouldn’t be to say he has lost any of the old fire, after all. He has been locked in a chilly war with some sections of the Dutch news media for a while. On Thursday, he met their inquiries with an icy glare and an acerbic put-down that, generally, tended toward an instruction to ask higher questions. When he desired to be, though, he was wry, and teasing, and just a little bit silly.

The trite explanation for this, after all, could be that van Gaal has obtained a latest perspective on life over the past couple of years. He was found to have prostate cancer in December 2020, and after he got here out of retirement to steer the Dutch national team — something he did only “for the country,” as he put it — he was taking training sessions through the day and undergoing radiation therapy at night. After such an ordeal, it might be hard to take soccer quite so seriously.

But listening to van Gaal, that seems unlikely. He takes his work no less seriously than he did when he was at Ajax and Barcelona and Manchester United. His conflict with the Dutch journalists who cover his team is rooted, essentially, in his conviction that the country’s traditionally adventurous style is out of step with the fashionable game; he sees himself, despite his age, as attempting to drag it kicking and screaming into the twenty first century. He’s locked in what he sees as an ideological struggle, one which he feels matters.

More compelling, then, is his own explanation. His personality has “not modified all that much,” van Gaal said, except in a single regard: “I actually have more patience now than I used to have,” he said. “And patience is an excellent thing.”

This may, in all likelihood, be van Gaal’s last job, regardless that he has had an incredible time at this World Cup telling reporters that they need to “never say never,” barely a beat after insisting he won’t ever work again. And he would, by and huge, be forgiven for having the air of a person in a rush, desperate to perform the few things which have eluded him before time is known as.

Because it is, van Gaal has gone the opposite way. He has been notably relaxed through the tournament, not only in his interactions with journalists, but along with his players, too. He doesn’t have long left within the job to which he has devoted his life. He seems determined to enjoy whatever time stays.

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