Ronald Koeman and Louis Van Gaal sparkled the showdown that had the most lasting effect on their relationship during one of their last meetings in England.
It certainly will foster the frostiness that has been so discussed before Manchester United’s trip to Southampton on Monday night.
Back in the summer of 2004, Ajax were on a pre-season trip to England, with Koeman as head coach and Van Gaal as technical director. At one point, the latter took Koeman aside to discuss the coach’s performance. This was despite the fact Koeman had just won his second Dutch title, and that such a discussion was not part of Van Gaal’s job description.
Koeman abrasively pointed this out: “I don’t know if you’ve read my contract, but the only person I have to justify myself to is the general manager.”
“From that moment on,” Koeman wrote in his autobiography, “it was a real battle between us.”
On Monday, almost a decade after that dispute forced Van Gaal out of Ajax, we will see a real showdown between them. From a situation where one wanted to tell the other how to do his job, all the talking will now be on the pitch.
According to Koeman, “I’m not hateful, but we will never be friends.” On Monday night, at least, they can put their strained relationship to the test on the pitch.