Louis van Gaal has a deserved reputation as one of football’s most belligerent geniuses who’d resort to some bizarre motivational techniques to get his charges going.
But surely there was none weirder than him literally getting his b*llocks out in the Bayern Munich dressing room to put Luca Toni and his under-performing team-mates in their place.
Toni was a big hero at Bayern when Van Gaal arrived in 2009, having won the double under Ottmar Hitzfeld in his first season and scoring 38 goals in 56 Bundesliga games across two campaigns.
But from their first days together, the Italian World Cup winner and Van Gaal had the kind of relationship that pop stars commit to song; toxic, frosty and served with a side order of resentment.
In one training camp, the Dutchman was unhappy with Toni’s manners when the team assembled for meetings and meals.
One day Toni, a bloke who is six foot and four inches tall, was slouching on his chair during dinner, as if he was scrolling through his phone while Netflix blared in the background.
Taking this with the affront of a medieval knight that’s learnt of a rival making advances on his betrothed, Van Gaal went behind Toni’s chair and pulled his ears to make him sit up straight.
“The way Van Gaal treated the key players was unworthy on a human basis,” a humiliated Toni later reflected.
In September 2009, Van Gaal forced Toni to play two matches for FC Bayern II, their amateur team in Germany’s third division, while he was recovering from an Achilles tendon injury.
The match was watched by about 2000 fans as the 2006 World Cup winner stumbled on the bumpy ground at the old stadium. Another humiliation.
Van Gaal, though something of a showman himself, could not stand Toni’s playboy image, with the Italian frequently portrayed as Bayern’s ‘beau’.
The coach also felt Toni lacked discipline and fined him in November 2009 when he left the stadium at half-time, having been substituted during a match against Schalke.
“Van Gaal simply didn’t want to work with me, he treats players like interchangeable objects,” Toni said. “The coach wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player. It was all the same to him because, as he said, he had the balls.”
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He added: “He demonstrated this literally. I have never experienced anything like it – it was totally crazy. Luckily I didn’t see a lot, because I wasn’t in the front row.”
Yep, you read that correctly. In a bid to lay down the law to his egotist squad, the Dutchman seared an image into their brains that a lifetime supply of soap and water couldn’t scrub out.
Mark van Bommel, who was captaining the Bundesliga giants that day, spoke of the incident in 2015: “The German players didn’t understand what he meant. He changed two players after 55 minutes and he wanted to explain why he did it.
“He was searching for the right words and his explanation was he doesn’t change for change’s sake. He thought, ‘I have an idea’.
“Afterwards, we were laughing and we were doing it in the dressing room as well.”
It worked too; Bayern would reach the final of the Champions League that year, as well as regain the German title, and Van Gaal was taken to the hearts of the initially sceptical Bavarian public.
But it was also inevitable that Toni would leave the Allianz Arena, a six-month loan to Roma in January 2010 was followed by the termination of his contract at the end of the season. Both parties breathed a sigh of relief.
Van Gaal would leave Bayern himself in 2011 after a spectacular falling-out with then-club president Uli Hoeness.
“Our characters do not correspond, and my life is too short to be with one, two or three people who are obviously very different from me,” he would later admit in a not-so-subtle dig at his former employer.
Maybe he should’ve just dropped his kecks in front of Hoeness. We’d have paid to see the reaction.
By Michael Lee