Chris Wheeler for the Daily Mail

September 19, 1998, at the Santiago Bernabeu. Guus Hiddink and Louis van Gaal stood yards apart on the touchline, but there wasn’t so much as a nod of recognition between the two Dutch coaches of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

No handshake, no greeting, no acknowledgement that the other existed. ‘Hiddink and Van Gaal fight a silent war in Madrid,’ declared De Volkskrant newspaper, labelling the pair ‘Dumb and Dumber’ for ignoring one another while five Holland players embraced warmly.

It was the culmination of years of frostiness between men with strikingly similar career paths but very different characters.

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Guus Hiddink (left) and Louis van Gaal (right, both pictured in 2006) go head-to-head on Monday night

Guus Hiddink (left) and Louis van Gaal (right, both pictured in 2006) go head-to-head on Monday night

Hiddink, then in charge of PSV, and Van Gaal of AZ Alkmaar, have not always been able to share a joke

Hiddink, then in charge of PSV, and Van Gaal of AZ Alkmaar, have not always been able to share a joke

Chelsea's manager was sacked by Real Madrid in 1999 after losing his battle with Van Gaal's Barcelona

Chelsea’s manager was sacked by Real Madrid in 1999 after losing his battle with Van Gaal’s Barcelona

Experienced manager Hiddink sits alone in the dugout during his short stint at La Liga giants Real Madrid

Experienced manager Hiddink sits alone in the dugout during his short stint at La Liga giants Real Madrid

That clasico finished 2-2, but a 3-0 win for Van Gaal’s Barcelona at the Nou Camp later that season contributed to Hiddink’s sacking after just seven months in charge of Real.

On Monday evening at Old Trafford, 69-year-old Hiddink could deliver a knockout blow to his old rival in just his second game back at Chelsea.

In keeping with their cold war, in the build-up to this game Hiddink declined to offer the Manchester United manager any public support when asked about his 64-year-old’s compatriot’s perilous position.

‘It is difficult for me to take a judgment on that,’ he said.

So how has it come to this?

Van Gaal and Hiddink were both average players in the Dutch league in the 1970s and 1980s who realised their dream of becoming great coaches.  

Manchester United boss Van Gaal has had two spells at Barcelona during his successful managerial career

Manchester United boss Van Gaal has had two spells at Barcelona during his successful managerial career

Van Gaal (left) and Hiddink (right) talk tactics during Edwin van der Sar's testimonial in August 2011

Van Gaal (left) and Hiddink (right) talk tactics during Edwin van der Sar’s testimonial in August 2011

Van Gaal is on the brink of quitting his job at United
Hiddink could put the nail in his countryman's coffin

Chelsea manager Hiddink (right) could be the man to put the final nail in Van Gaal’s (left) coffin 

UNITED VS CHELSEA BY NUMBERS 

0 United have not beaten Chelsea in any competition since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, a run of eight matches dating back to a 3-2 win on October 2012. 

5 There have been five red cards in the last six Premier League meetings between these two sides – three to Chelsea, two to United. 

3 Guus Hiddink has won his last three competitive meetings with Louis van Gaal; all with PSV against AZ Alkmaar in Holland in 2005-06. 

Both won the league and European Cup double, Van Gaal with Ajax and Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven. Both led their country to a World Cup semi-final. Both men worked for a powerhouse of Spanish football, and both are now at the most successful Premier League clubs of the last decade. That is where the similarities end, however.

Van Gaal the strict authoritarian who demands structure has never seen eye to eye with the cigar-loving, amiable free spirit that is Hiddink. ‘It boils down to personalities,’ said one Dutch football observer. ‘The roundhead Van Gaal and the cavalier Hiddink. Piet Mondrian’s straight lines versus the romanticism of Vincent van Gogh.’

That has been aggravated by Hiddink’s friendship with Van Gaal’s nemesis, Johan Cruyff.

Hiddink picked Cruyff’s son Jordi for Euro 96 during his first term as Holland coach, but saw that campaign undermined by a feud between the eight players selected from Van Gaal’s Ajax, ending with his decision to send home Edgar Davids for dissent.

Wesley Sneijder has described Van Gaal as the 'tough schoolteacher' while Hiddink is the 'friendly uncle'

Wesley Sneijder has described Van Gaal as the ‘tough schoolteacher’ while Hiddink is the ‘friendly uncle’

Van Gaal managed to guide Holland to the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup before joining United

Van Gaal managed to guide Holland to the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup before joining United

Hiddink was relieved of his duties during his second spell as Holland boss in June after replacing Van Gaal

Hiddink was relieved of his duties during his second spell as Holland boss in June after replacing Van Gaal

Van Gaal could be given the boot if United slip up against Chelsea as they have fallen out of top four

Van Gaal could be given the boot if United slip up against Chelsea as they have fallen out of top four

Cruyff was an arch critic of Van Gaal during his time in charge at Barca and further riled him by complimenting Hiddink’s Real for playing football more in keeping with the Dutch model.

More recently, Hiddink succeeded Van Gaal as Holland boss. However, he was sacked as his side were well on their way to missing out on Euro 2016, just a year on from reaching the final four at the World Cup in Brazil.

Midfielder Wesley Sneijder described Hiddink as ‘the friendly uncle’ and Van Gaal as ‘the tough schoolteacher’.

Van Gaal is on the brink and the man who could nudge him over the edge is the one he shunned all those years ago in Madrid.


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