Why Van Gaal is no World Cup genius, just an O’Neill imitator

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There’s a little known myth attached to England’s last World Cup semi-final appearance against West Germany in 1990, a game won by Die Mannschaft on spot-kicks and forever remembered by Three Lions fans for misses from Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle.

The story goes that with time ticking on, Bobby Robson was considering an audacious move that would have seen England stalwart Peter Shilton taken off in place of the precocious Dave Beasant of Wimbledon.

The thinking was simple: while Shilton was the established number one, he had a terrible record of saving penalties, adopting a rather odd strategy of waiting until the taker had hit the ball before jumping, a system that only bore fruit if the kick in question was a tame one.

It was a different story for Beasant – he had a reputation for saving from the spot, having denied John Aldridge of Liverpool in Wimbledon’s famous FA Cup Final win of 1988 to become the first goalkeeper to save a penalty in the showpiece game.

More importantly, at 6ft4in he was some four inches taller than Shilton. In the end though, Robson opted against the move and fans would have to wait another 24 years for a manager to finally test out the theory, with Louis van Gaal bringing Tim Krul on against Costa Rica to great effect.

But while Van Gaal was the first World Cup manager to take such a gamble, fans of Leicester City are more than familiar with the so-called maverick’s method.

Back in 1996, then Foxes manager Martin O’Neill did the very same thing.

Heading into penalties against Crystal Palace with the two teams locked at 1-1, the current Republic of Ireland boss switched out Kevin Poole for Zeljko Kalac.

Once again it was as much about the height difference, with Kalac almost 6ft7in compared to Poole who was just 5ft10in, though the Australian also had a great record of saving from the spot.

In the end though, Kalac was not required as just seconds after coming on Steve Claridge scored to send Leicester up.

Years later, however, O’Neill was quick to note that, while penalties were not required, the substitution did have an effect on the Palace players, with many losing their collective concentration at a vital time.

Is the former Aston Villa manager a tactical genius to rival Van Gaal? Perhaps, but for those fancying O’Neill to do the business for Ireland, you can now get 14/1 on the Green Army topping their Euro 2016 qualifying group.

Leicester City, meanwhile, start life back in the Premier League at home to Everton, with the Foxes 5/2 to win on the opening day!

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Jack Beresford

Jack Beresford is a content writer with over five years of experience in writing about sport and betting, including a two-year spell with Axonn Media. Contributes articles to HereIsTheCity and Lad Bible, while previous credits include Bwin, FTB Pro, Bleacher Report and the QBE rugby. Avid follower of tennis, rugby union, motorsport and football, Jack also writes about poker for Cardspiel.com alongside Guardian journalist Dominic Wells.