A Look back at Louis Van Gaal and his biggest transfer successes and failures

The January transfer window is days away, and Louis van Gaal has to be hoping he’s given another transfer window to sort out Manchester United’s problems. Van Gaal is going to have no shortage of cash, his side is already one of the most expensive to have ever been put together. The question is, what will he do with all that money. During the summer, Van Gaal and the United board brought in a lot. They went out and bought big names like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial to name a few.

United supporters still felt that Van Gaal didn’t address the teams biggest needs, as he failed to bring in a center back or another center forward. It wasn’t for lack of trying, however, as United’s borderline obsessive pursuit of Thomas Müller was rebuffed at every turn.

Looking back at Van Gaal’s managerial career, his business in the transfer windows has been hit or miss. That isn’t something that is terribly uncommon. Many of the world’s best managers have their ups and downs in the transfer market. That said, given that Van Gaal’s job might depend on what he’s able to get done in January, it’s worth looking back at some of the Dutch coach’s biggest successes and failures.

Javier Hernandez

If there is one player that Van Gaal has to be kicking himself for letting goal it’s Javier Hernandez. The Mexican striker has been in blistering form for Bayer Leverkusen. Scoring 17 goals in his last 14, Hernandez has fired himself towards the top of the Bundesliga goal scoring charts with the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerik Aubameyang. Meanwhile, back in Manchester, Van Gaal is having a real struggle to find a consistent goal scoring. Hindsight is 20/20, and it could be that Hernandez needed a change of scenery to spark his career, but United fans would surely love some of his goals right about now.


Sergio Romero

When Van Gaal was in charge of AZ Alkmaar back in the late 00’s, he turned the small market side into a tremendously successful championship winning team. There were plenty of players that Van Gaal brought in, like Moussa Dembele who contributed greatly. But, it was Sergio Romero that was one of Van Gaal’s biggest successes of that team. At one stage in Alkmaar’s 08-09 championship season, Romero kept a 950-minute clean sheet streak. In a bit of irony, Romero knocked out Van Gaal’s Netherlands team in the 2014 World Cup. Van Gaal bought Romero again this past summer, but with the David De Gea deal with Real Madrid falling apart, Romero didn’t get any more than a handful of starts. Romero is the rare case of being a transfer success and failure for the same manager with two different teams.

The de Boer Twins

Van Gaal is a fan of Dutch players. When he was in charge of Barcelona back in the late 90’s, he made a habit of playing with players from his home country. Two of the bigger names that Van Gaal brought to the Nou Camp Were Frank and Ronald de Boer. Ronald wasn’t a big success, only featuring for the Spanish side for one season before he moved on to Rangers. His brother Frank, on the other hand, was a solid defender for Van Gaal until Van Gaal was sacked. Frank de Boer eventually tested positive for a banned substance and his career never really recovered. His time at Barcelona, however, could be considered a success and a good bit of business by Van Gaal.


A major problem Van Gaal had to deal with in his first season at Barcelona was the departure of mega superstar Ronaldo. Van Gaal’s plan was to replace the prolific goal scoring Brazilian with another prolific goal scoring Brazilian. Out went Ronaldo, in came Rivoldo. Rivaldo, who would go on to win a World Cup in 2002, would score 130 goals for Barcelona during his time at the club. Rivaldo would win the domestic double in his first season with Barcelona, along with the de Boer twins. Eventually he would have a falling out with Van Gaal and that forced him to be released, but during his time in Barcelona he was without a doubt a success.

Rebuilding Bayern Munich’s depth

Following a disaster of a season with Jürgen Klinsmann in charge of the German giants, Bayern brought in Van Gaal to revitalize the team. And while there were some spectacular successes in the transfer market (more on that later), Van Gaal had a few disasters as well. Most notably Edson Braafheid and Danijel Pranjic. Both players came over from the Netherlands, where Van Gaal had coached the year before. Neither player really fit into what Bayern were all about. Pranjic was a versatile player, who was good at a few things, but wasn’t great at anything. Braafheid was a flop though. It seemed like the Dutch full back excelled at only one thing, and that was passing the ball back to the keeper. Both players were involved in Bayern’s run to the Champions League final in 2010, but never played much of a role in getting them there. Braafheid only lasted until January of that season before being loaned to Celtic.

Interesting fact, Edson Braafheid played in the 2010 World Cup Final. Figure that one out.

Arjen Robben

Van Gaal’s greatest purchase in the transfer market. Arjen Robben, who was pushed out of Madrid to accommodate the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, has become a Bayern legend. The speedy Dutch winger didn’t waste time making an impact in Munich. He scored a brace in his first match for Bayern, and quickly became a fan favorite. Robben was a game changer in Munich, so much to the point that Bayern’s current success might not come about had he not arrived on the scene. Scoring the winner in the 2013 Champions League Final will probably go down as his greatest moment. Along with Mario Gomez, who was polarizing to a lot of Bayern fans and the promotion of Thomas Müller, Van Gaal showed he could effectively bring in world class talent. Robben is still in Munich, and he’s still productive when healthy. It will be hard to top the purchase of Robben, as far as the transfer market is concerned.

Van Gaal is going to need more than another Robben in Manchester. Part of his problem is the side he was left with. Rebuilding Manchester United to their former glory is going to require a lot of patience. Van Gaal specifically needs to be aware of his past failures. Over the years Van Gaal has been able to buy those big name superstars like Robben and Rivaldo. It’s his ability to get the role guys, the ones that provide depth, that Van Gaal has struggled with. If he can find the right players for United, in time they will be back among Europe’s elite. They have the money, but will they give him the time?

About Harrison Prolic

Northern Illinois graduate with a degree in Journalism. Full-time page designer in Madison, Wisconsin. Part time follower of all things German soccer. I tweet about the Bundesliga and plenty of other sports @hprolic.