By Brian Homewood
MUNICH (Reuters) - Two things usually happen when Louis van Gaal coaches a side. The fiery Dutchman invariably gets involved in personality clashes with the directors and he also discovers young talent that other coaches might have missed.
His two-year stint at Bayern Munich was no exception. Van Gaal slunk out the back door when he was fired in 2011 after a series of disagreements with the club's high profile directors, so much so that club president Uli Hoeness recently said that the Dutchman considered himself to be "the father of God."
Yet, Van Gaal, now in charge of the Dutch national team, also left an impressive legacy, harnessing the talents of wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben and turning Bayern into an aggressive, attacking outfit.
Possibly his most important contribution, though, was to recognise the potential of forward Thomas Mueller, the architect of Tuesday's astonishing 4-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League.
Mueller, who scored two goals and was involved in the other two against the stunned Catalans, was expecting to be loaned or transferred from Bayern until Van Gaal turned him into a first-team regular in the 2009-10 season.
Mueller, who later described Van Gaal as his mentor, responded with 13 goals in his first full season, including a hat-trick against VfL Bochum which effectively clinched the Bundesliga.
Since then, he hasn't looked back. He scored four goals at the 2010 World Cup, including two in the 4-1 last 16 tie against England, and has become one of Bayern's influential players. Yet he is something of an unlikely hero.
If he were to walk down the street it is unlikely Mueller, with his ungroomed mop of hair and unusually skinny legs, would be mistaken for a footballer.
On the pitch, he does not terrorise opponents with his dribbling in manner of Ribery and Robben, nor does he score goals at the same prolific rate as Mario Gomez and Mario Mandzukic.
Instead, Mueller has emphasised that his gift is his understanding of space.
He demonstrated his uncanny knack to find it against Barcelona, popping up on the left wing, the right wing and in the penalty area, invariably unmarked, to create havoc in the Catalans' improvised back four.
He scored the first goal as he stooped to head Dante's header in the net. For the second, he rose at the far post to head the ball into the path of Gomez who turned it in from close range.
His involvement in the third was more dubious as he blocked Jordi Alaba, leaving Robben with a clear run on goal. For the fourth goal, he was in the right place at the right time again as he turned David Alaba's cross into the goal from close range.
"You can reflect about a game as much as you want beforehand, but on the pitch you must rely on your instinct," he once said in an interview.
"There's sometimes logic in where the ball is going and maybe I simply have the gift for reading it.
"Of course, I'd like to play like Lionel Messi but I know I can't.
"I have to find my own ways of being successful. Some things you can learn by training, but sometimes you have a certain instinct, a feel for space. I'm happy I have that capability."
German media have labelled him the "Raumdeuter", which means "interpreter of space" and is a term usually associated with interior design.
Bayern lost 4-0 on their last visit to the Nou Camp four years ago, when Mueller was still in Bayern's youth division, but the 23-year-old was convinced it would not happen again.
"I made my contribution. It went very well," he said of Tuesday's game. "You're fired up for a Champions League semi-final. It feels good when it ends like this.
"I knew I'd only be able to do a good job if I covered a lot of ground. 4-0 is a dream result. We've all witnessed the magic of Camp Nou often enough. But we want to show the world it won't work on us."
(Reporting by Brian Homewood. Editing by Patrick Johnston)