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Erik ten Hag’s to-do list: can he bring the glory days back to Man Utd?

The Dutchman has a huge rebuilding job on his hands at Old Trafford

The worst-kept secret in world football has finally been confirmed – Erik ten Hag will become the new permanent manager of Manchester United. Ten Hag, currently head coach of Ajax, will replace interim boss Ralf Rangnick at the end of the season. The 52-year-old Dutchman has signed a three-year deal until June 2025 which can be extended by a further year. 

In a statement released on Thursday United football director John Murtough said that during the past four years at Ajax Ten Hag has “proved himself to be one of the most exciting and successful coaches in Europe” and he is renowned for his team’s “attractive, attacking football and commitment to youth”.

Ten Hag said it was a “great honour” to be appointed manager of United and he is “hugely excited” by the challenge ahead. “I know the history of this great club and the passion of the fans, and I am absolutely determined to develop a team capable of delivering the success they deserve,” he added. “It will be difficult to leave Ajax after these incredible years, and I can assure our fans of my complete commitment and focus on bringing this season to a successful conclusion before I move to Manchester United.”

Former glories 

The club may have given the impression that four candidates were in the running to be their 12th permanent post-war manager, said Samuel Luckhurst in the Manchester Evening News. However, it was “always between two”: Ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino. “Ultimately, United decided Ten Hag was the manager most closely aligned with the club’s identity and strategy.”

Sixth in the Premier League, three points off the top four and risking missing out on qualifying for next season’s Uefa Champions League, this current United team have been described as the “worst for 30 years”. The Red Devils have turned to Ten Hag to try and “restore the club to their former glory”, said Chris Wheeler in the Daily Mail. He will double his salary and earn close to £30m over his contract. 

‘Relentless upward coaching curve’

Ten Hag’s “journey from altar boy” in his native Holland to manager of United is the “culmination of a career path carefully considered and acted upon”, said Phil Blanche in the Irish Independent. His appointment “might seem swift considering he has not managed in the top five leagues of European football”, but he has been on a “relentless upward coaching curve over the past two decades”.

A former player for Dutch clubs FC Twente, De Graafschap, RKC Waalwijk and FC Utrecht, Ten Hag cut his teeth in management at Go Ahead Eagles, Bayern Munich’s second team and FC Utrecht. Appointed as Ajax head coach in December 2017, he led the Amsterdam club to two Eredivisie titles, two KNVB Cups and the semi-finals of the 2018-19 Champions League.

He has forged a reputation as “one of Europe’s most exciting coaches” and is “very highly thought of” among his fellow managers, said Nathan Egerton on PlanetFootball. Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, who was head coach of Bayern Munich when Ten Hag was in charge of the German club’s second team, said the Dutchman is “just an incredible person and human being”. In terms of his qualities, “just take a look at his Ajax team in the last years”, Guardiola added. “To define a manager, watch his team for a long time. This is a team, and this manager makes the players play. There is no doubt about that.”

Winning trophies and restoring pride 

United have “churned through managers” since 2013, when Alex Ferguson called time on his glittering career after 26 years in the dugout, said Alex Conrad on Fox Sports. Including interim and caretaker bosses, Ten Hag becomes the eighth man in the past ten years to sit in the Old Trafford hot seat. “For a team that hasn’t won a trophy since 2017 after being spoiled with glory during Ferguson’s era, fans are desperately craving some form of success,” Conrad added. “Quite simply, it should be the bare minimum for a club of United’s stature.”

Before Ten Hag looks at building a team capable of winning trophies again, he has a “big job to get the club back up to minimum standards”, said Gary Neville on Sky Sports. Due to the scale of the rebuild, former United and England defender Neville believes Ten Hag won’t be under pressure to win trophies for “one or two” years. What needs to be dealt with initially is “attitude, work ethic, belief, confidence and then hopefully you start to think about winning trophies”.

‘Unprecedented’ squad overhaul

There are “a number of challenges” for Ten Hag to overcome, said Simon Stone on BBC Sport. “Stepping into an alien world”, Ten Hag has never experienced the “unique demands of English football” and has never managed anyone with “either the history or the ego” of Cristiano Ronaldo. “It is essential he gets this right.”

United’s recruitment is also “a major issue”, Stone added. There is a list of at least ten players who could leave Old Trafford this summer, but “finding the right quality” at United “may not be quite so easy”.

Neville also believes that recruitment is the “key focus” and the “most important job” in a football club. “If you get the players wrong, you’re struggling,” he said on Sky Sports. “There’s a big job to do in many different aspects. The first job is to decide who he wants to keep that’s currently there and then he’s got to decide who he wants to get in with him to make sure that confidence, that belief, that spirit in the dressing room can start to rise.”

With some “already certain to leave” and others “likely to go”, Ten Hag will have to decide on the futures of 11 United players, Luckhurst said in the Manchester Evening News. The club is bracing itself for an “unprecedented” squad overhaul.

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