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Erik ten Hag exclusive: How Cristiano Ronaldo can still impact big games, Sir Alex Ferguson advice and new signing Antony

Erik ten Hag faces Arsenal on Sunday after facing it all as Manchester United boss over the last three months; the Dutchman addresses Cristiano Ronaldo, Antony, and other topics. Watch Manchester United vs. Arsenal on Sky Sports Super Sunday at 4.30 p.m.

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Scrutiny, drama, pressure, wins, losses, and one of the world’s biggest talents yearning to leave. Erik ten Hag has seen it all in his first three months as manager of Manchester United.


That should help prepare him for one of the Premier League’s most historic games, which promises to be another blockbuster.


Ten Hag, like many others, was captivated by the great battles between Manchester United and Arsenal in the 2000s, which will be broadcast live on Sky Sports on Super Sunday.


“Top games, the tremendous history between the two teams, both with really fantastic players and good managers,” Ten Hag told Sky Sports News. “But it’s now about Sunday, it’s new, we have to establish a future.”


So, who was he rooting for back then?


Ahead of Manchester United’s Super Sunday match against Arsenal, we take a look back at a great match between the two clubs from 2008, when an Owen Hargreaves free-kick handed the Red Devils a critical victory.

“My team in England was always Manchester United, I always supported this club, in the past, I loved watching (David) Beckham, (Paul) Scholes, (Rio) Ferdinand, and (Ryan) Giggs, I always liked them.”


What if he had to pick just one? Is it going to be Team Vieira or Team Keane? He chuckles. “There’s no doubt about it. Keane.”


So it’s no wonder that his allegiances are divided when it comes to the manager. “What (Arsene) Wenger did at Arsenal was fantastic, as was his ideology. I admire that, but Fergie constructed everything.”


Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow remains, but Ten Hag will not let it define his time at the club.


“I spoke with him, and we are satisfied with that, as are his advisors, and we are appreciative, but now we must establish a new future, that is also evident,” the Dutchman stated.


The previous several weeks have shown how severe the criticism will be while he rebuilds the club. “How did you like your first 100 days or so?” I ask. “Is it all you hoped for?”


He smiles: “I am not such a dreamer, I am more the reality, and I realized it was a major challenge and hard work. I’ve been so busy that I didn’t realize it’s been 100 days, but that’s a good indication.


“I’m going through a football process. I enjoy managing that both on and off the field. It excites and pushes me, and it is beneficial to have this experience.”


Ten Hag has already been working in the action sector, according to the definition of the process, which is “a set of acts conducted in order to achieve.” He dropped his captain, Harry Maguire, and told Cristiano Ronaldo that he must fit into his vision of the club, not the other way around.


“I use intuition and feelings when I make decisions, but they have to be sensible and strategic if you want to go in the path that Manchester United wants to go, and we all have to be on the same page,” he said.


“I need to be clinical and ask what is best for the club and the team, as well as what the process is and how to progress. I must be transparent, clear, and communicative.”


I wonder how that message was received, and if he has any reservations about employing him in important games.


“He showed it last year and not long ago, so now he needs to integrate into our way of playing; if he does, he will decide the games due to his ability.”


Ronaldo is only one of the many intriguing subplots that this fixture frequently generates. Another question is if Antony, who arrived from Ajax this week to rejoin his former boss for a fee of £86 million, will start and, with it, prove he can deal with the pressure of being one of United’s and the Premier League’s most expensive acquisitions.


Ten Hag is certain. “He’ll be OK with it. He lives and breathes football. He has already shown himself, having played in the Champions League, for the Brazilian national team, and as an Olympic gold champion.


“He will offer personality and creativity. It is also a new beginning for him, and he must adjust to the club, the Premier League, and the high intensity, but I am confident he will.”


Ten Hag spent more than £200 million this summer on Antony and another former Ajax player, Lisandro Martinez, as he aims to develop his squad in a completely different way than he did at Ajax.


Is he feeling pressed because of the money spent? How did it feel to spend more than £200 million? “It’s a lot of money,” he admits but emphasizes the process once more. “It is a component of it, and it is something we must do in order to remain competitive. We now have a squad with potential and good players, and we need to form a team.”


Casemiro, another of those new faces, might be on the team from the start on Sunday. Is he ready to go against Arsenal? “I believe so,” Ten Hag responds. “He’s used to competing in huge games.”


That is just what this promises to be. Ten Hag is aware of how difficult the opponents will be when Arsenal, who are having a revival with five wins from five league games this season, visit Old Trafford.


Unlike some of those famous matches, no title is on the line, but both Ten Hag and Mikel Arteta will know a lot more about where their teams’ rebuilds stand come Sunday evening.

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