Rarely has an international been so cheerful behind a table during the press conference after a match. Arnaut Danjuma started laughing infectiously on Monday after many questions about his return to Orange, while his eyes twinkled. He came in, made 5-0, swinging past fans from Gibraltar, challenging, shooting left and right, low and high. And he once said jokingly “Louis” when he spoke about the national coach.
Perfectly happy, that’s how national coach Louis van Gaal labeled his own mood, about the course of the game against Gibraltar (6-0), about the perfectly executed plan, about the fine conversations with players in the second block of his third period as national coach. For their group feeling; then he glows with pride and contentment. It was irrelevant to him that the opponent was the completely insignificant Gibraltar.
‘Extravagant’, Danjuma called his play, again with that exuberant laugh. The 24-year-old attacker had to wait three years for the continuation of his international career. Injuries and a relegation with Bournemouth threw him back. Last year, his management peddled the media to keep him in the spotlight. Now he is back, stronger than before, transferred for 25 million to Villarreal, where he is still impressing. He is mainly right, but gave a few hard crosses with the left, because he thought that Wout Weghorst would be there. “Alhamdulillah,” the Nigerian-born attacker posted on Twitter. Thank Allah, accompanied by the statement that patience is a virtue.
It is striking, all those wingers who are eager and jostling each other to reach the selection, and then the World Cup in Qatar. Cody Gakpo, Steven Berghuis, Steven Bergwijn, striker Donyell Malen if necessary. Noa Lang and Arnaut Danjuma, who impressed this week, Calvin Stengs later possibly. Yes, 4-3-3 remains an option, even after the qualifying series. Alone: Van Gaal prefers to play 5-3-2, he repeated, or 3-5-2, or 5-2-3. He can’t wait to train the variants with his eager group. Van Gaal has gradually come to believe that 5-3-2 is the best system, because of its versatility, modernity and more defensive certainty. It’s not that the players don’t want that. It just takes getting used to.
For 4-3-3, Van Gaal also lacks sufficient top offer in his eyes, especially as a right winger. Danjuma said he can do it if he has to, but he prefers the left. Noa Lang also prefers to play from the left. That’s how football evolved. Left legs on the right in the front, right legs on the left, to also be able to slip inside and go for their own chance. ‘In the past’ that was almost unthinkable. Then the right winger was better with the right and the left winger with the left. The turnaround was accelerated by Van Gaal himself, who often let the left-footed Boudewijn Zenden come from the right in his first period as national coach, partly because the right-legged Overmars simply preferred to be on the left.
Before Van Gaal enters the test phase, it is important to finish qualifying in November, a more difficult task than many people think. Without explaining too many scenarios: a draw twice, on November 13 in Podgorica against Montenegro and three days later in Rotterdam against Norway, is enough anyway, also because of it for the rivals Norway (2 points behind) and Turkey (4) unattainable goal difference of Orange. Many other variations are possible. Winning one duel is enough, provided it is from Norway, regardless of the result in Montenegro and other results.
Testing at the highest level
Should the Orange crown themselves as group winners and qualify directly for the World Cup, then Van Gaal can test his beloved 5-3-2 at top level in March, when all major countries have been qualified, and vary in that way of playing. Sink in a bit, counter, use the speed in the front. He referred to the 2014 World Cup, when he also switched between systems, although the ‘old’ 4-3-3 often went better than the adopted 5-3-2. Van Gaal never agrees on that verdict. One flowed from the other, he said.
The fact is that it does not make much sense to look far ahead, however tempting, because the Orange is still far from being as far as a number of real top countries of the moment, which have already or almost certainly have been placed for the World Cup, such as Germany, England, Belgium and Brazil. Behind the early happiness is a warning sign.