Louis Van Gaal is a world-renowned, football legend. After a rather underwhelming playing career, he advanced into management, where he was anything but underwhelming.
Few can match his CV – multiple league titles in various countries, a Champions League triumph, a stunning World Cup campaign, and so much more. He was also well-known for his comments in the media – and that hilarious fall in front of Mike Dean.
His rather abrasive personality did lead to some famous clashes, most noticeably with Rivaldo, but the good seemingly outweighs the bad. He won titles with Bayern Munich, AZ Alkmaar, and guided an unfancied Netherlands team to an unlikely 3rd place finish at the 2014 World Cup.
Whatever you think of Van Gaal, few can doubt his prowess as a coach. One of his finest qualities is his record at promoting youth players, and placing his trust in them. The prime example of this is leading Ajax to a famous Champions League triumph in 1995, full of a team of youngsters.
But this wasn’t the only example of his trust in youth, over the years he has handed debuts to a plethora of greats. In this article, we take a look at his stunning record of handing debuts to players who would turn out to be stars of the future.
The first player to win a Champions League title with three clubs needs no introduction. The Dutchman was part of the famous Ajax team, and at just 16 years of age, was handed his debut by Van Gaal.
Seedorf would go on to have an amazing career, playing for the likes of Real Madrid and Milan, before embarking on a managerial career.
Just some of his honours include four Champions League titles, domestic titles in four different nations and competed at four international events over a storied career.
A player who has practically won everything there is to win in football – the World Cup, Champions League, and many other honours given his nature as a staple of the Bayern Munich team that has dominated German football in recent years.
Back in 2009, Muller made his debut under Van Gaal in the Bundesliga, and would go from strength-to-strength in the subsequent years.
Muller has been very complimentary towards Van Gaal in interviews, talking about how his coaching made a big impact on him.
Lauded as one of the all-time greats, Xavi starred for Barcelona for almost two decades – often dictating play in his central midfield position.
He made his debut in 1998, and would stay at Barcelona until 2015. Throughout Barcelona’s golden years, Xavi was a central figure to their success, contributing to multiple honours over his 505 appearances.
He clocked up endless assists for Barcelona, setting up many of their stars – including Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry.
He was won everything on both club and international stage – and was part of the Spain team that won three international tournaments on the bounce.
Alongside the aforementioned Xavi was his fellow midfield wizard – Andres Iniesta. He starred for years at Barcelona, helping the club win multiple honours.
He debuted under Van Gaal in the 2002/03 Champions League against Club Brugge, and didn’t look back. In his early years, he was noted for his ability to play in multiple positions, before settling on centre midfield.
Like Xavi, he was part of the Spanish team that won three international tournaments in a row, and scored the winning goal in the World Cup Final of 2010.
He is also considered to be one of the best central midfielders in history. Iniesta left Barcelona in style in 2018 – signing off with another league title.
During Van Gaal’s tenure at Manchester United, the side were engulfed in an injury crisis in February 2016. Van Gaal turned to youngster Marcus Rashford – and he duly repaid him.
At just 18 years of age, Rashford scored twice on his debut against FC Midtjylland In the Europa League. Just three days later, Rashford made his first Premier League appearance – scoring another two goals in a 3-2 victory over Arsenal.
Rashford would go on to be a key cog in Van Gaal’s team at United, culminating in an FA Cup triumph in 2016.
Van Gaal left in the summer, with Jose Mourinho continuing to play Rashford. While the jury is still out on Rashford – especially given his inconsistency in front of goal, he still has plenty of time to turn into a great striker.
Without doubt, Patrick Kluivert is one of the most underappreciated strikers in recent history. While he did peak early in his career, he still went on to win several honours, playing for the likes of Milan and Barcelona.
He made his debut in the 1994-95 season, as Van Gaal put his faith in the 18-year old striker. Kluivert led the line throughout the season, and was integral in the side’s journey to the Champions League final. That final was Kluivert’s crowning moment, as he scored the winning goal.
After leaving Ajax and having a stint at Milan, he then reunited with Van Gaal at Barcelona in 1998. The duo won the league title together in their first season. While his form somewhat tailed off, Kluivert continued to pick up honours – with his final trophy coming in the Netherlands, as he helped PSV Eindhoven to glory in the 2006-07 Eredivisie league.
Kluivert reunited with Van Gaal at the start of the 2008-09 season, this time as a coach for AZ Alkmaar. The side won the 2008-09 league title – widely considered a shock win.
In 2012, Kluivert reunited with Van Gaal for a fourth time – joining his backroom staff for the Netherlands. At the 2014 World Cup, the Dutch defied all expectations by charging to the semi-final. Kluivert certainly has a strong relationship with Van Gaal.
Victor Valdes is one of the most decorated goalkeepers of all time – having won three Champions League titles, six Primera Division titles and numerous other titles.
All of his success came at Barcelona – which started in 2002, under Van Gaal. He debuted at just 20 years of age in a Champions League Qualification match. He would go on to be Barcelona’s number one for the next decade.
He was ever-present throughout those ten years, claiming many titles. After a horror injury cut short his farewell season, Valdes entered a lengthy rehabilitation period.
He returned to football in 2015 – as he started training with Manchester United, managed by Van Gaal at this point. He debuted against Arsenal in a 1-1 draw.
Unfortunately, Van Gaal and Valdes had a falling out, meaning Valdes didn’t play again for United. He finished his career off with Middlesbrough.
Aside from his club career, Valdes also won multiple honours with Spain – including the World Cup. While he and Van Gaal’s relationship ended sourly, he has since spoken of his admiration for his former coach.
Way back in 1991, Edgar Davids debuted for Ajax under Van Gaal. Earning the nickname ‘the pitbull’, Davids starred for Ajax for several years – and was part of the Champions League winning team of 1995. He claimed three league titles during his time at Ajax.
Davids moved to Milan after Ajax, although he struggled to embed himself into the team. Davids subsequently moved the next season to Juventus – where he would enjoy considerable success.
After seven years and three league title victories, Davids first departed Juventus for a loan spell at Barcelona, and then for Inter Milan, though he left after one year.
A brief spell at Tottenham Hotspur ensued, before an emotional return to Ajax in 2006. A leg break cruelly deprived Davids of a longer stint at Ajax, though he did win the KNVB Cup during his time.
Davids had seemingly retired, though he made an unexpected comeback at English Championship side Crystal Palace. He left after just three months, though he held his time at the club in great affinity – calling it one of his “greatest experiences” in his life.
In 2012, Davids made another unexpected return – this time with Barnet – then in the fourth tier of English football. Davids made a man the match appearance in his first match. Davids became player-manager soon enough, but the team couldn’t avoid relegation.
Davids continued to play in the fifth tier, though he was sent off multiple times. Davids left a few months later – bringing an end to a distinguished career.
Carlos Puyol was an absolute warhorse for Barcelona for a number of years. Known for his no-nonsense approach to defending, he won numerous titles for Barcelona throughout his career.
He debuted under Van Gaal in 1999, during a 2-0 win over Real Valladolid. Puyol remained with the club for several years, winning six Primera Division titles, three Champions League victories, and many other honours.
He also had an excellent international career – with his crowning achievement coming in 2010 in the World Cup triumph. Puyol would go on to captain Barcelona for several years. In recent years, Puyol has been highly-complimentary about Van Gaal.
David Alaba is considered one of the finest defenders in football. He was handed his debut by Van Gaal back in March 2010 – at just 17 years of age.
Alaba continued to play over the course of the next few weeks – helping Bayern to the 2009-10 Bundesliga title. Van Gaal suggested Alaba is “a left back, even though he doesn’t think so himself” – something he seemingly got right.
At the time of writing, Alaba has won 11 league titles, two Champions League titles and numerous other honours. Undoubtedly one of the finest players of his generation, and Alaba has shown no sign of stopping soon.
Van Gaal has always adopted a stance of “if they’re good enough, they’re old enough”. This stance has been key towards Van Gaal being one of the most successful managers in history.
He has helped to launch the careers of so many of the best-known players in the game. He is spoken of highly – showing the level of appreciation many players have of the iconic Dutchman.
The featured picture used at the top of the article is courtesy of Wikipedia. Attribution: ING Nederland, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.