Over in the Netherlands, ditching the 4-3-3 formation popularised by the legendary Johan Cruyff is almost seen as tantamount to vandalism. Like reaching heaven’s pearly gates and slapping Saint Peter in the face before reciting the works of Richard Dawkins, writes the HITC.
As such, with Louis van Gaal re-introducing the back-three system that took the Dutch to third place at the 2014 World Cup during his second spell in charge of the national team, the criticism was painfully predictable.
“I’m not going to expand on it because I think you have a different opinion of football,” Van Gaal told one particularly probing reporter after the Netherlands secured their place in the last-16 over in Qatar; more functional than thrilling in their group-stage performances.
“Why don’t you write that you think (the football) is terribly boring, and you are going home tomorrow because you couldn’t care less?
“I don’t agree with you. That’s your opinion (that the Dutch play dull football). But I don’t think your opinion is the correct opinion. I think everyone would be rather proud we are progressing to the next round.
“I think things are not as bad as you say they are.”
The sight of one wing-back setting up the other during the Netherlands’ 3-1 victory over USA on Saturday afternoon – the scorer then returning the favour later on in the very same game – felt like justification for Van Gaal’s methods.
Denzel Dumfries, having already assisted Memphis Depay’s opener, burst down the right-hand side once again just before half-time, another inch-perfect full-back slotted home by the advancing Daley Blind. Shortly after Haji Wright’s bizarre finish halved the deficit, Blind returned the favour; his chipped cross volleyed home by Dumfries at the back post.
One goal and two assists from your right-wing-back; whoever said Van Gaal’s 5-3-2 formation was overly pragmatic?
“Denzel Dumfries; I mean, what a player!” former England international Micah Richards said during the BBC’s coverage. “I just thought that his whole game was brilliant, starting with the assist the timing of his runs.”
Dumfries’ Man of the Match display on the biggest of stages felt like not merely justification for Van Gaal. But for Marcel Brands too. The former Everton director, who worked with Dumfries during his time at PSV Eindhoven, was desperate to bring the former Heerenveen ace to Goodison Park in a £12 million deal before he burst onto the scene at Euro 2020; sealing a move to Inter Milan after the tournament.
Rafael Benitez, however, vetoed Dumfries’ arrival (Voetbal International).
Now, with Dumfries valued at £55 million and with a Man of the Match performance in the World Cup knockout stages under his belt, it’s difficult to work out what has aged worse. Benitez’s decision, or the criticism of Van Gaal’s winning methods.