“I could see difficulties there,” Man United manager Jose Mourinho said of Ten Hag’s arrival and what it could imply for Ronaldo and Van de Beek.
It hasn’t been confirmed completely, but Manchester United fans will be getting a better picture of their club’s next manager with each passing day: Erik ten Hag, barring a last-minute surprise.
The Ajax manager appears to be an interesting managerial mind, and his philosophy and style appear to be more in line with the set-up and spirit of clubs such as Manchester City, Liverpool, or Barcelona if he does take over.
Some Red Devils fans may have expected Mauricio Pochettino, but it appears that his poor tenure at Paris Saint-Germain will cost him, so what about this rather off-the-beaten-path appointment?
We chatted with Dutch football journalist Jan Willem Spaans, a freelance writer who has also written a book on Liverpool and Netherlands defender Virgil van Dijk, to get a sense of what United fans might anticipate from Ten Hag.
Continue reading to learn more about the guy who is now anticipated to take on one of the most important jobs in international football…
COS: Ten Hag appears to be the frontrunner for the Manchester United post – How significant is this for Dutch football, and how is the story currently seen in the Netherlands?
Jan: It appears that the English media is mostly responsible for his association with Manchester United. There appears to be widespread agreement that Ten Hag would leave Ajax at the conclusion of the season, but there has been little discussion of his next move, with the exception of Louis van Gaal recommending him not to take the job at Old Trafford. The Premier League and, indeed, Manchester United have a sizable following in the Netherlands, so if the move goes through, his dealings in Manchester will be extensively scrutinized. Following Ronald Koeman’s departure from Barcelona, it would be beneficial for Dutch football to have someone managing a top European team.
What can Manchester United anticipate from Ten Hag in terms of tactics and philosophy?
Ten Hag prefers a possession-based game and appears to be more of a coach than a manager — I don’t believe he has the ultimate say on transfer deals in Amsterdam. He takes his time getting things right – after a few months, there were cries for his head at Ajax, and the nation’s best-selling daily continued to slam him for pretty about anything they could think of for a long period. If he joins United, he’ll focus on winning and retaining possession of the ball until his players are sick of it, and then it’ll be more of the same.
What about human resource management? Ten Hag will face some strong egos at United, maybe unlike anything he faced at Ajax – do you think he’s up for the challenge?
That’s difficult to say. Ten Hag coaxed a tune out of Hakim Ziyech and Quincy Promes, two players who haven’t always been easy to coach. Early indications indicate that he is succeeded in bringing Mohamed Ihattaren back on track after a difficult period in his life. Ten Hag is a wise man, and I believe he will figure out how to approach seasoned superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo.
Louis van Gaal recently suggested that Ten Hag join a football club rather than a ‘commercial club’ like United; do you feel that he would be better off waiting for another offer in the future?
Manchester United is clearly in bad shape right now. Expectations are high, but I don’t believe a title run is feasible with the present roster. If he continues to play a little role in transfer negotiations, he will be reliant on those in charge to bring in excellent players. Yes, I sense difficulty there.
Van Gaal is another Dutch manager in United’s history, but his techniques did not seem to succeed there – why do you believe that was the case and is there anything Ten Hag can learn from in order to avoid making the same mistakes?
I’ve never been to Carrington, so please keep in mind that my words aren’t worth much, but my opinion is that Louis struggled to sell his ideas to the big names at United. Having said that, none of their managers since Ferguson have been able to make a meaningful title push, so I’m sure the club’s problems go deeper than the guy in charge.
Ten Hag previously worked with Steve McClaren at Twente, and McClaren seemed to hold great regard for him. What do you know about his previous coaching experience and how it turned him into the manager he is today?
Erik ten Hag rose to prominence after guiding Go Ahead Eagles to their first promotion to the top division in 17 years, after which he resigned to take over as manager of Bayern Munich II. His one season with the Eagles was a hard learning curve, and club staff still remember him warmly for his fanatical attention to detail. For example, he installed a window in his office so that his players and he could see each other in the corridor and approach each other more easily. He returned to Holland and worked brilliantly at Utrecht until being enticed away by Ajax.
The organization at Ajax appears to be excellent from top to bottom – how much has this aided Ten Hag, and how much will it be tough for him to work in a slightly more chaotic organization at United?
Ten Hag clearly profited from a thriving academy and outstanding work from DoF Marc Overmars – at least in terms of football. Life will be much more difficult for him at a club where he will not be surrounded by excellent prospects and astute signings.
What are your thoughts on Donny van de Beek’s difficulties at United, and might Ten Hag be the guy to help him resurrect his career?
I just don’t understand how any of Donny’s club managers had any plans with him. Erik ten Hag will always attempt to incorporate a dynamic, industrial, yet skilled midfielder into his team, no matter where he goes. His impending arrival at Old Trafford can only bode well for Donny.
Who are Ajax’s standout players, and could any of them be potential signings for United?
Antony is the obvious star in this Ajax team, but I can’t see him joining Manchester United as long as they don’t offer Champions League football; for all their financial might, they would have to put it on the table. Noussair Mazraoui (this summer) and Ryan Gravenberch (next summer) might be highly useful acquisitions, as they will both be on free transfers. However, if Ten Hag could only bring one player with him, I believe he would choose Jurrien Timber, a great, versatile center-half who is only 20 years old. His partner Lisandro Martinez appears to be a useful upgrade to United’s shaky defense.