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10th Feb 2015

Gaizka Mendieta: ‘Perfectionist’ Louis van Gaal will get it right at Manchester United

The Spaniard also revealed how he's become a modern day 'Toto Schillaci'

Robert Redmond

It’s safe to say Gaizka Mendieta’s career path has been unique.

The Spanish midfielder was the lynchpin of the excellent, if misfortunate, Valencia side which took the Champions League by storm in 2000 and 2001, only to lose successive finals.

He was, at one point, the most expensive Spanish footballer ever after his £29 million move to Lazio in 2001, an eyewatering amount at the time, and was twice named European midfielder of the year.

Mendieta also knocked Ireland out of a World Cup in 2002, performed secret DJ sets in nightclubs after games and finished his playing career with Middlesbrough.

In between all that there was a season in Catalonia under the current Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.

Mendieta spent the 2002/2003 season on loan at Barcelona and, when SportsJOE sat down for a chat with him yesterday, he gave us an insight into working under the ‘demanding’ Van Gaal.

‘He was great, because he’s a very experienced manager,’ Mendieta said.

‘The type of manager who will bring the best out of you because he will demand the best out of you in every training session and every single game’.

‘You have to bring your best and he makes you a better player. He sees football as a system, as a team, which may affect an individual’.


Van Gaal’s ‘system’ affecting the individuals players has been a hotly debated topic amongst fans and media outlets lately.

Players such as Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj and Angel Di Maria have been played out of their natural positions, with Van Gaal citing his tactics as been for the good of the team as a whole.

Mendieta warns that the individual comes a distant second for the Dutchman, and he won’t be shy about letting any disgruntled players know that.

‘The team is very important for him’ he said.

‘He will not have one second of doubt about dropping an individual if he thinks it’s for the benefit of the team. So sometimes that has the side-effect that big players maybe won’t be part of the team eventually’

However, in the long term, Mendieta believes his former manager will be successful at Old Trafford, and that his perfectionist nature, rather than being a perceived hindrance, is in fact what sets him apart.

‘He’s so demanding, he’s so on you all the time’ Mendieta said.

‘In training, he doesn’t like you to be relaxed. He wants one hundred per cent for the entire training session, from every player, for every exercise, from running to ball work. It all has to be perfect. In that respect he’s a bit different from other managers, that and tactically’.

‘Sometimes Van Gaal’s methods can be controversial, but, in the long run, he’s always been successful, so I can’t see why he won’t be for Manchester United’.

Gaizka Mendieta of Spain scores the winning penalty in the shoot-out

Away from Manchester United and the Premier League, Mendieta revealed he has become something of a ‘Toto Schillaci’ figure.

The 40-year-old, who was capped 40 times by Spain, told us how he’s constantly being asked by Irish people about knocking the country out of a World Cup.

Mendieta slotted away the winning penalty in the 2002 penalty shoot-out against Ireland, putting Spain through to the quarter-finals and sending Mick McCarthy’s team home.

‘I get asked about that so many times, it always happens to me, I’ll see some Irish guy and they ask me about that moment’, Mendieta said. ‘I couldn’t forget about it even if I tried’.

‘That team was the best team Ireland had in recent years, in terms of quality and performance. Ireland got a bit lucky in a way to get such a good bunch of players, similar to the way Spain did’.

Gaizka Mendieta was in Dublin to announce details of Setanta Sports’ live coverage of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League for three years from 2015/2016.

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