DOHA, Qatar — Netherlands coach Louis Van Gaal was taken by surprise at a World Cup news conference Thursday when a Senegalese reporter told the Dutchman he was a longtime admirer.
“I don’t have any question for you. It’s just an opportunity to tell you I’m a fan since 3 years old,” Papa Mahmoud Gueye said. “I love you.”
The 71-year-old Van Gaal, sometimes viewed as a stern-faced, taciturn and obdurate figure in soccer, broke into a huge smile before responding.
“I’m going to give you a big hug after this, because I like that you say this and I mean that seriously,” Van Gaal said through an interpreter. “Because people don’t often say this to me. So we’ll give each other a big hug afterward.”
Van Gaal kept his word, moving down from the stage and beckoning the reporter with his hand to join him in a warm embrace.
The 28-year-old Gueye works for Senegalese publication Taggat.sn.
Gueye told The Associated Press it was an honor to share such a touching moment with Van Gaal, a storied and highly innovative coach who has led teams like Ajax, Barcelona and Manchester United.
“He’s one of the greatest figures in football,” Gueye said. “He was also happy to see that there are people who love him, and he said to me ‘Let’s give each other a hug.’”
Gueye said Van Gaal has earned an unfair reputation over the years as being grumpy.
“That’s not really the case. From a distance people generally think that’s he’s not cool,” Gueye said. “But he’s a smiley character and he laughs with everyone. And he’s one of the best coaches in the world.”
The Netherlands beat Senegal 2-0 on Monday.