Seven football legends Van Gaal gave senior debuts to
Robbie Purves | February 29, 2016
Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal hailed the impact of United youth product Marcus Rashford as Carrington’s kids embarrassed faltering Arsenal.
The 18-year-old local lad scored twice in United’s 3-2 win against title hopefuls Arsenal, after only making his debut for the club in the Europa League, when bagged a brace on that occasion too against Midtjylland.
Speaking after the win, Van Gaal said: “It’s unbelievable when you are 18 years old and you come in, I can understand it like last Thursday against Midtjylland because you are coming in and you do your thing without any pressure.
“But the second time is more difficult and he played a very good match. The things I asked of him, he scores again – four goals in two matches – that is an average that is unusual!
“You get a chance and you have to perform, you have to do the things that we are asking. I have always said it is not a matter of age, it is a matter of quality and he shows it.”
Asked how Rashford’s debut compared to that of other youngsters he has put faith in, Van Gaal added: “I can imagine a lot of them, Patrick Kluivert makes the winning goal (for Ajax) in the Super Cup in the Netherlands. Xavi, fantastic against I think Valladolid (for Barcelona) and also Thomas Muller a fantastic debut.”
The United manager has a long history of trusting young players and his tenure at United is no different – giving 11 youth products their debuts. At a club like United this is essential and a vital component of the clubs history. Fans love to see a local boy out on the turf he dreamed of as a kid.
Van Gaal has given debuts to some outstanding talent in his career, here we take a look at the best…
The dreadlocked maestro was renowned for his combative style of play, marking, and ability to break down opposition plays as a defensive midfielder. He also a highly creative player with outstanding technique, ball skills and possessed a ferocious strike.
Davids started his Ajax career at the age of 12 and made his first team debut on September 6th 1991 in a 5–1 home win over RKC Waalwijk.
Nicknamed the ‘The Pitbull’ by his manager Van Gaal, the goggled midfielder helped the club to three domestic Eredivisie titles, as well as European success with the 1992 UEFA Cup and 1995 Champions League.
Davids went on to win 13 major trophies with Ajax and played for the likes of AC Milan, Juventus, Barcelona and Inter Milan. Juve would be his most successful move, winning Serie A three times and collecting three other major trophies.
A product of the famed Ajax Youth Academy, Seedorf started his career as a right midfielder during the early 1990s. He made his professional debut on November 29th, 1992 against Groningen at the age of 16 years and 242 days, which made him the youngest debutant for Ajax ever.
He rapidly established himself as a star under van Gaal, and during the 1993/94 season, his second with the club, he helped the Amsterdam side to win the treble, lifting the League title, the Dutch Cup and the Dutch Super Cup in the same year.
The following season, Seedorf helped his side secure consecutive Super Cup and League titles, as well as guiding his side to their fourth European Cup trophy, famously winning the 1994/95 Champions League, defeating AC Milan in the final – who Seedorf would later go on to represent for a decade.
He went on to have a trophy laden career and retired as one of the best midfielders of his generation and one of the most decorated Dutch players ever. Seedorf was the first and still only player to have won the Champions League with three different clubs – once with Ajax, in 1995, once with Real Madrid in 1998, and twice with Milan in 2003 and 2007.
Kluivert joined Ajax’s academy at the age of seven and was part of the Dutch side’s Golden Generation of the 90s.
He made his debut in the senior team of Ajax on August 21th, 1994 at the age of 18 in the Dutch Super Cup win against the old arch rival Feyenoord, in which he scored his first goal. The 1994/95 season saw Kluivert and other youngsters from the famous academy, including Davids, Seedorf and Edwin van der Sar, shine on the European stage with a triumph in the Champions League.
A then 18-year-old Kluivert scored the goal that handed Van Gaal’s team European victory against AC Milan and his place in history was sealed.
The forward used fellow Dutchman’s famous ‘Cruyff Turn’, was deadly in the air and possessed a silky first touch. He won seven major trophies with Ajax and went on to play for the likes of AC Milan, Barcelona (where he would meet Van Gaal again) and even Newcastle United.
Kluivert finished his career with an impressive one goal in three games strike rate, and joined Van Gaal’s coaching staff at the 2014 World Cup where they finished an impressive third.
Considered by many to be the greatest Spanish players ever. Xavi played over 700 matches, scored 82 goals and made more than 180 assists for over 50 players.
Xaxi is seen as the embodiment of Barcelona’s team based ethos and was pivotal in the both Barca and Spain’s dominance in recent years. These include two European Championships, a World Cup, eight La Liga titles and an unbelievable four Champions League trophies.
He made his competitive debut on August 18th, 1998 in the Super Cup final, in which he scored against RCD Mallorca. Xavi scored his first league goal against Real Madrid and enjoyed an unbelievably successful career.
Regarded as one of the best defenders of his generation, the one-club-man served as the team captain for Barcelona after taking over the captaincy from current Barca manager, Luis Enrique in 2004.
In 1998 Barcelona accepted an offer from Malaga CF to sell Puyol. However, he refused to leave after seeing his best friend Xavi make his first-team debut.
Van Gaal promoted Puyol to the first team the following year, and he made his La Liga debut on October 2nd, 1999 in a 2–0 away win against Real Valladolid. After that he successfully made another conversion, from right back to central defender.
Puyol was famed for his commanding presence in the air despite being under 6ft, his composure on the ball and his intense commitment and pride in the Barcelona shirt.
He went on to win 22 major trophies, of which six were La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues. He also experienced international success with Spain, winning the World Cup in 2010 and the Euros in 2008.
After Puyol’s first training session with the first team, Van Gaal asked the defender: “What’s your problem, can’t you afford the money for a haircut?”
Puyol said nothing, and to this day has kept his shaggy long hair.
Iniesta made his first team debut for Barcelona in a Champions League match against Bruges on Tuesday October 29th, 2002. The playmaker later recalled that Van Gaal had told him to “just go out and play”.
Just after Iniesta arrived at the club, then-Barcelona midfielder Pep Guardiola famously told fellow midfielder Xavi, “You’re going to retire me. This lad [Iniesta] is going to retire us all.”
Like Puyol and Xavi, Iniesta is grateful for the faith he showed in him as a young player and allowed him to play with a freedom that resulted in footballing dominance and for Iniesta personally, 26 major trophies including seven La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues.
His balance, control and excellence with the ball was nurtured at Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and later combined with fellow Barcelona man Xavi, in one of the best midfield partnerships the world has ever seen, to lead Spain to World Cup (in which he scored the winning goal) and Euro success.
He currently has 29 trophies, making him the most successful Spanish footballer of all time.
In early February 2009, Muller signed his first senior contract with Bayern Munich, a two-year deal effective from the 2009/10 season.
He was prepared to be loaned or even transferred away to find first-team football, but when Louis van Gaal was appointed manager, his future was changed forever.
His breakthrough season was in 2009/10, he played almost every game as the club won the league and cup double and reached the Champions League final.
Muller remarked in 2015 that “Louis van Gaal and I have a relationship that goes beyond that which is normal between a player and a coach.”
The World Cup winner scored 23 goals in the 2012–13 season as Bayern won an historic treble; the league title, cup and Champions League.
Muller, 26, has already lifted 12 major trophies and the Bavarian giants are set to win yet another league title and will look to progress into the latter stages of the Champions League in Pep Guardiola’s last season.