Louis van Gaal has questioned Germany’s defiant stance against Fifa by stating the Netherlands will not take the “risk” of doing the same because they are at Qatar 2022 to be world champions.
Before Germany’s 2-1 loss to Japan on Wednesday the team lined up for a photograph with their hands over their mouths to signal they would not be silenced, and six players, including the captain, Manuel Neuer, wore boots with rainbow colours on the front. This followed Fifa instructing seven European nations, including Germany, that their captains should not wear the OneLove armband, which stands for tolerance, diversity and LGBTQ+ rights.
After the shock defeat Germany faced criticism that their protest had caused a lack of focus. Van Gaal was asked about this. “That is the question,” he said. “I don’t want to run that risk – we’re here to be a world champion … We put a full stop behind all the political issues [last] Thursday when we invited the migrants and we have this purpose. We are not going to have that tarnished by the actions of Fifa or whichever other organisation.”
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Belgium’s Eden Hazard echoed Van Gaal. “Germany’s gesture? They would’ve done better if they didn’t do it and tried to win,” the forward told RMC Sport. “We’re here to play football, I’m not here to convey a political message.”
It was put to Van Gaal that those back home were experiencing the World Cup differently because the spotlight remained on Qatar’s human rights issues. “That has got to do with the environment in the Netherlands,” said the 71-year-old. “A different environment than what we see here.
“Everything has been organised in an excellent way. No criticism whatsoever. Perhaps it’s all about human rights [at home] and maybe rightly so but also perhaps not rightly so. I believe I’ve responded enough to that.”
Cody Gakpo scored the Netherlands’ second in their opening 2-0 win against Senegal, the 23-year-old’s fourth goal in his 10 games. Van Gaal believes the PSV forward can be a breakout player of the World Cup. “He is a player with a lot of talent and possibilities,” said the coach.
“He is young and is a player who is still evolving and has a lot of room for improvement and has a personality that will do everything that it takes. Whether he will be a star at this World Cup, I don’t know, but it is possible.”
The Netherlands face Ecuador on Friday with Memphis Depay, who had had a hamstring problem, being fit to play a half at least after managing half an hour against Senegal. Van Gaal admitted selecting him in the squad contravened his usual code regarding players who are not fully fit.
“This is a player that is quite extraordinary [so] I’ve set aside my principles because I believe he is incredibly important to us,” Van Gaal said. “I explained this to the players. I do all this for Memphis and the players understand this. He played 30 minutes and really isn’t grappling too much with the issue so we’re proceeding to the next step, which is 45 minutes.”