“O, Louis: In Search of Louis van Gaal”, Hugo Borst, Yellow Jersey Press, London 2014.
Hugo Borst is an award winning Dutch Football writer and pundit who at one time was a friend of Louis van Gaal. They have fallen out and are still to be reconciled; it seems unlikely that this book will hasten any reconciliation.
“My book about you has its negative side, but you’ll be amazed by how balanced it is. You know what it is, Louis……….I love you.”
So proclaims the author upon meeting van Gaal at a press conference earlier this year when the book was a work in progress. You get the sense that that love is unlikely to be reciprocated any time soon.
Borst and van Gaal go back a long way; as far as the author’s childhood when van Gaal was the star player at Sparta Rotterdam and the author, a lifelong Sparta fan watched him play for his club. It is clear that Borst craves reconciliation to the point that at times it appears an obsession. His wife certainly feels that he is obsessed as he honestly recounts at various points in the book.
The central theme of the book is an attempt to understand what makes van Gaal the man tick. What makes him so abrasive and unforgiving, why is he the man he is? It is also clear, to me at least, that in trying to gain an understanding of van Gaal, Borst is also trying to gain an understanding of himself. Borst draws parallels between his own character and van Gaal’s and parallels to his own personal family history.
If you are a football fan interested only in the game, whether that is its tactical detail or the wider football culture which is presented via the press and media then we would warn that this is probably not the book for you. Borst focuses is very much on van Gaal as a person, the psychology of the man and his character. On that level it is a great book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Borst is an intelligent man and clearly a great football journalist who knows his stuff.
I would recommend the book to everyone, those who are interested in the nature of the man and the football fan because it is inevitably the nature of the man which makes him the obsessive, driven, abrasive, outwardly self assured and ultimately successful football manager who is currently steering our ship. The book also gives people looking from the perspective of an English football culture a view into another countries football culture.
This is certainly a level above most football books.