AMSTERDAM (AP) — Louis van Gaal is aiming to take a rebuilt Netherlands squad to the top of international football at the World Cup.
It could be a dress rehearsal for next season, when Manchester United fans coming off a disastrous year will want him to return their club to the top of the English Premier League.
Van Gaal's appointment as Manchester United's new manager next season means he will be under even more intense scrutiny in Brazil in what will be his final international tournament.
He announced well before the World Cup he would step down as Netherlands coach after the tournament and intended to retire to his house in Portugal and spend more time with his family and playing golf — unless the right Premier League team made him an offer.
The golf course can wait. Van Gaal is headed to Old Trafford on a three-year contract as he becomes the second coach, after David Moyes, to try to fill Alex Ferguson's shoes.
When asked why he announced well before the World Cup that he would quit at the end of the tournament, the outspoken Van Gaal told Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad: "Because after two years I'm totally sick of being national coach."
It was a typically provocative comment from a coach who has never backed away from conflicts, whether with reporters questioning his tactics or star players unwilling to follow his orders.
Brazil will mark the 62-year-old Van Gaal's first appearance on football's biggest stage, a glaring omission on the resume of a coach who has won national league titles in the Netherlands with Ajax and AZ Alkmaar, Spain with Barcelona and Germany with Bayern Munich as well as the 1995 Champions League with Ajax, among a host of other trophies.
The major blemish on his record came in his first stint as Dutch national coach, when the team failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, finishing third in qualifying behind Portugal and Ireland.
It was a stunning setback for a coach used to molding players into attacking and exciting teams.
He has plenty of work on his hands ahead of Brazil as he rebuilds the team that was humiliated at the last European Championship two years ago, losing all three of its group matches.
Van Gaal is a tough task master with an often prickly relationship with senior players.
But, as he proved in leading Ajax to the Champions League title, he works well with talented youngsters and he has plenty of inexperienced players to mold into a team to challenge for honors in Brazil — he has given 25 players debuts since taking over in 2012.
"It is all about team spirit," Van Gaal said of team building for Brazil. "Having everybody pull in the same direction."
In good news for the Dutch, Van Gaal says that he and the Netherlands' captain — and Manchester United's star striker — Robin van Persie are already on the same wavelength.
"Always, you make a player captain when you have ... more or less the same philosophy, not only about football tactics but also about life," Van Gaal said. "So I think that's very important. I believe that Van Persie and Van Gaal (have) the same philosophy."