As Spain get ready to face the Netherlands, we take a look back in time when Louis van Gaal faced off against Vicente del Bosque in an El Clasico.
Vicente del Bosque and Louis van Gaal are two of the most illustrious names in modern football. Between themselves they have won three Champions League titles, one World Cup, one Euro and a bunch of league titles in multiple countries. However, the two managers have not come head to head on too many occasions. The first time they came head to head, though, was on the biggest stage of European club football – the El Clasico. Del Bosque was relatively a green-horn at that time, when it came to managing big teams but his Real Madrid side gave a proper hiding to Rivaldo and Co.
Despite winning their first European Cup in over three decades, Real Madrid had failed to sustain success. Jupp Heynckes was dismissed after winning the Champions League while his successor Guus Hiddink failed to arrest the downslide. The club turned to John Toshack, whose swasbuckling Real side of 1989/90 season broke numerous records en route to a memorable league title. But even the Welshman failed to recreate his magic, a 1-3 loss against eventually relegated Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu being the nadir of his second reign. Desperate for a turnaround Real Madrid looked inwards, employing a man who had played his entire senior career at the club and had gradually rose through the ranks as a coach. Vicente del Bosque had very little experience of managing a senior team. His start was wobbly as Real lost two of his first three matches, including a 5-1 thrashing at home from a Savo Milosevic inspired Real Zaragoza. Just before this Clasico Real had earned a fighting 1-1 draw at the Mestalla.
Louis van Gaal arrived in Barcelona with a sparkling CV, and a bombastic quote, “I have achieved more with Ajax in six years than Barcelona has in one hundred years”. His brilliant Ajax side had won everything on offer – three league titles and four international titles and had reached back to back Champions League finals. Van Gaal inherited a talented team from Bobby Robson and went on the deliver instant success in Camp Nou. Inspired by Rivaldo and Luis Enrique, Barcelona played scintillating football to win a double in 1997/98 season. The Dutchman retained the league title the following season but the mercurial coach had by then fallen out with Spanish media as well as some of his players, including Rivaldo. Barca were still favourites for a third consecutive title and they began strongly, losing just once in first nine rounds. The applecart was toppled in October when Roy Makaay struck twice within 15 minutes as Barca lost 2-1 against Deportivo and lost the top spot. They would not regain it again that season. Barcelona had lost to Betis and Alaves but a 4-0 win over Valladolid just before the Clasico was a major boost for van Gaal’s side.
Starting with a 4-3-3 formation, Real Madrid quickly took control of the match as Roberto Carlos scored after five minutes with a vicious free-kick. Fourteen minutes later Nicolas Anelka took advantage of some chaotic defending to double Real’s lead. Barcelona tried hard to get back into the game but the double defensive covering of Redondo and Geremi would neutralize Figo and Rivaldo, who would also see a free-kick come off the post. Seven minutes into the second half a sweet turn and snap shot from Fernando Morientes finished this match as a contest. Real Madrid had not won an El Clasico in their previous six attempts and had lost four times. It was a momentous win for del Bosque.
Briefly, Real Madrid moved up to third in the table but more crucially, Barcelona dropped to fifth. Any notion that Real was back to their best was dispelled just three days later when Bayern Munich arrived in Madrid, winning 4-2. Slowly but steadily del Bosque turned Real around. Their league form improved but it was in Europe that Los Blancos shown yet again. In group stages they suffered a 8-3 aggregate loss against Bayern but edged out Valeriy Lobanovsky’s Dynamo Kyiv to progress to knock-out round. A fantastic second leg quarter final performance saw Real race to a 3-0 lead at Old Trafford before the hour mark, on their way to knocking out the defending champions. Nicolas Anelka scored in both legs as Real squeezed past group stage nemesis Bayern in semi-final to set up an all Spanish final against Valencia.
Despite improving their form in next few rounds Barcelona never really recovered from this loss. They may have finished second but were just two points ahead of Real, who finished 5th. Only when Real’s poor start (they had dropped to 17th mid-way into the league season) is taken into consideration does one grasp the incredible turnaround done by Vicente del Bosque. Van Gaal also failed to deliver European success for the third consecutive season, failing to Valencia in semi-final. Van Gaal left Barcelona at end of the season, they would have to wait for over half a decade to win the league again, coached by yet another Dutchman – Frank Rjikaard. For Real Madrid, this was the start of a golden period and the kick-off of the Los Galacticos era.