Print journalists, radio presenters, biographers, TV personalities, pundits; there are a lot of jobs in football, even if you are not a former professional. Hugo Borst has done it all though. Starting out as a journalist for esteemed Dutch football magazine Voetbal International, Borst made his strides through journalism before ending up at Algemeen Dagblad, Esquire, Unibet and Panorama among others. The talented writer also became a pundit in the most popular Dutch football talk show Studio Voetbal, something he has been on a weekly basis for five years.
A true lover of football and a heavyweight in Dutch football journalism, Borst is one of the main editors of Hard Gras, a magazine reminiscent of the niche Sunderland-based magazine The Blizzard. Currently, he is one of the presenters of NOS Radio Langs de Lijn, a show that covers the live Eredivisie football and other sports on the Sunday afternoon.
In short, Borst has earned his stripes in football. But today, the main reason to talk to Hugo is not his accolades in general, it’s the tenth book he wrote, ‘O Louis’, in which he talks about his relationship with Dutch manager Louis van Gaal, currently the main figure at Manchester United.
Here is an exclusive interview with Borst talking about Van Gaal’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what drew him to English football.
Louis van Gaal seems quite loyal to the clubs he’s managed, but he was reportedly lined up for a Director of Football role at Liverpool above Brendan Rodgers in 2012. Does he find his passion for a club only once he arrives in a job or does he have an in-built feeling for United regardless of that earlier link?
No, he mentioned Liverpool and Manchester United earlier on as great clubs.
When you said he liked both United and Liverpool, why was that? The history? The size?
Everything smells and breathes football. That’s what it is. In the way the people are singing in the stands. That’s maybe better at Liverpool than at Manchester United. Manchester United, it’s more of a theatre. Ajax have a similar problem. Feyenoord are the Liverpool of Rotterdam.
How do you think his football will fit in with the traditional tastes of Manchester United for fast, attacking football and lots of wing play in the long-term?
He knows what the supporters want. They want a winning team. But if he is playing well but not winning so much, maybe that’s the end?
Can you envision any scenarios of how you think van Gaal’s time at United could end?
I hope he finishes the job: three years and then Giggs carries on. Probably a year under Louis van Gaal. Louis van Gaal is watching, then Giggs is the boss. I hope that in two, three years, I’m won’t say that Manchester United win the Champions League but getting into the semi’s and finals. That is what should happen if Louis van Gaal can do his work.
Yes. Winning the cup: winning the Champions League. And the Premier League, of course. And then you’re back.
What do you think he will do after football, after the United job?
I can’t see the man doing nothing. That’s what Truus likes, being in Portugal where they have a house. Or playing cards with his friends. I hope that he will help my Sparta to take them back to the Eredivisie. Buy the club. It is for sale for £7m or £8m. With a year’s salary, he can buy Sparta, and then re-organise it as a president or I don’t know what.
What attracted van Gaal to English football?
He always mentioned Bayern Munich. After that, when he succeeded there, he begins mentioning the Premier League. But he wasn’t interested in the Premier League because he thought it was kind of dumb football in the 1970’s: too rough, too unorganised, too physical. This Premier League though he likes. He sees Mourinho, Wenger and all those brilliant players. But I don’t think he’s a fan of the English way of playing.
As a coach, Louis van Gaal is one of those managers that sometimes applauds a defeat or bemoans a win based on reasons that are sometimes unclear besides the result. He said that the West Brom draw was one of United’s best performances of the season…
That was ridiculous. That wasn’t good. Sometimes I don’t understand that part. I would say that’s kind of stubbornness or a provocating part of it. In the League Cup game, he was not happy. Sometimes, at that moment you have to think he can’t stand it and he’s acting strange. I’m sure he sees much more than you and me together. Same with Cruyff. If you watch sometimes with professional players, in the last World Cup I worked with lots of ex-pros such as Ronald de Boer, and what those guys see is amazing. Just details. They’re chatting and talking and suddenly: amazing.
Is Van Gaal on a mission to right the wrongs of English football?
He would like to. He would be a greater technical director for the FA, but would the FA change from having typically English people within the FA? The main thing is, if you can count how many English players are in the Premier League that they can collect, there’s not a lot. You have 16 or 17 good players, but beyond that… And that should be better. That’s a thing Louis van Gaal can achieve if he took a job with the FA. Maybe after Manchester United? We’ll have to see. Save English football? Ah, yes. He would like that.
What are van Gaal’s greatest qualities?
His great ability is that he has so much energy. He is not an old man. In Holland, we’ve got a discussion now with Guus Hiddink. He lost four out of his five games and everyone thinks we see an old man. That will never happen with Louis van Gaal. He’s energetic. He’s a believer in his own game; his own religion. He wants to show the world that he can do it one more time. He wants to give Manchester and the world a team we talk about. Not only in results but also in play. That’s Louis van Gaal.
What are van Gaal’s main weaknesses?
His weakness is being criticised. Saying that you’re great, you should leave for other people to tell you, but I don’t think many people have said to him that he’s great or he’s good. Other things, no. There must be slight weaknesses, but not any big ones. I would trust him as a football leader in everything. His character is strange. His character is very strange sometimes. There have been no accidents in England yet.
With Arsenal coming up, can you make any comparisons between van Gaal and Wenger and how they both go about chasing their ideals for a certain brand of football?
It’s interesting what Wenger has done in his career. They never win though. Although they had the championship in 2002. The Invincibles. I must say, Wenger doesn’t spend so much money, and that’s what I like about it. He is creative. I didn’t understand why Louis van Gaal sent away Danny Welbeck. So the Manchester United fan is a little bit scared of Welbeck? I can’t understand why he was sent away. He is not an outstanding player but a very good attacker. He plays well and at the World Cup he wasn’t that bad. That was something I didn’t understand. He is a youth player of Manchester United, and Louis van Gaal spends a lot of money at Manchester United. At Bayern, he made players so good. Mueller? How much is he worth? Due to van Gaal who discovered him. He said, “he’s my boy!”