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SPORTS | 07-12-2022 16:10

Scaloni vs. Van Gaal: a generational battle for the ages

Argentina's clash with the Netherlands on Friday puts the youngest coach at the World Cup in Qatar against the oldest.

Argentina's Lionel Scaloni versus Netherlands' Louis Van Gaal. The youngest coach at the World Cup in Qatar (44 years old) against the oldest (71). The match between their respective national teams on Friday in the quarter-finals of football’s biggest tournament is also a generational duel.

"I was at Deportivo La Coruña when he was coaching Barcelona and he was already an eminence, it's a pride to face him, everyone knows what he has done for football," Scaloni said after Argentina’s 2-1 Round of 16 win over Australia, looking ahead to the prospect of facing the Netherlands.

Scaloni came to Europe to play for 'Depor' and remained with the Galician club until 2005. In those years he coincided with Van Gaal's two coaching stints in Spanish football at FC Barcelona (1997-2000 and 2002-2003).

That means that when Scaloni arrived in European football, at the tender age of 19, Van Gaal was already a prestigious 46-year-old coach who had taken Ajax to Champions League and Intercontinental Cup glory in 1995. In 2019, he ranked 18th in France Football magazine's ranking of the best coaches in history.

On paper, everything separates them as coaches. One is just starting his career on the bench and the other, battling cancer, is about to retire. One has experience only within the Argentina national team set-up, at Under-20 and senior level, and the other has coached his national team in three different stages over more than two decades, as well as taking in spells at major European clubs such as Ajax, FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United.

Their personal profiles are also very different. While Scaloni uses a measured tone and has a low profile, Van Gaal has in the past been the source of some controversial outbursts or volcanic reactions.

"The problem with Van Gaal is not that he thinks he's God, but that he thinks he's God's father," former German footballer and Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeneß once said of him.

At World Cups, Van Gaal has already managed to put the Netherlands on the podium, eight years ago at Brazil 2014, and is now aiming to repeat or improve on that performance.

He has not, however, won an official title with the Oranje, something Scaloni can boast of with Argentina, having led the team to the Copa América title last year and this year lifted the Finalissima, the trophy that pits the reigning European and South American champions against each other.

He is surrounded too by a young coaching staff from his own generation. For example, he has former international teammate Pablo Aimar, 43, by his side on the bench.

"We are in the same way as when we took over when we were young, with a very young coaching staff. At the first call we said ‘yes,’ we had no doubts, we didn't stop to think about it because we believe it's spontaneous, it's our way of being, and we enjoy it in our own way," Scaloni explained of his youth and that of his team when he announced his 26-man squad for the World Cup.

Whatever happens on Friday, Scaloni looks to have a promising future in the dugout based on what he has shown in his early career.

Van Gaal had decided to retire after leaving Manchester United in 2016, coinciding with a very difficult personal moment with the death of his younger sister and one of his sons-in-law.

He decided, however, to return for a third spell in charge of the Netherlands and to take part in the World Cup in Qatar 2022, a tournament that was to mark his definitive retirement.

However, the veteran coach is now being touted as a possibility to coach Belgium following the resignation of Spain's Roberto Martínez.

"Belgium is a great country, with very friendly people and Knokke ]on the North Sea coast\ has a beautiful beach. But you have to convince my wife!" he joked.

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by Diego Reniares, AFP

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