Erik ten Hag has officially been announced as the new manager of Manchester United, five months after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was dismissed.
The 52-year-old Dutchman is in line to take charge at Old Trafford after correspondents at ESPN broke the news two weeks ago that an appointment was imminent. Last week The Athletic’s David Ornstein revealed that United and ten Hag had ‘verbally agreed’ a deal in principle with an official announcement to follow.
United’s hierarchy appeared torn between two primary candidates in ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino as the club‘s next manager. With United on the prowl for a fifth permanent manager since Sir Alex Ferguson retired nine years ago, ten Hag and Pochettino were the clear front-runners to take charge from next season.
ten Hag and Pochettino were reportedly interviewed for the position towards the end of March and both managers are in prime position to win the domestic league title with their current teams, Ajax and Paris St-Germain. Similarly to United, each of Ajax and PSG crashed out of the Champions League Round of 16.
The Amsterdam club have a four-point lead over PSV Eindhoven with five games remaining and are closing in on a third Eredivisie title under ten Hag. Ajax were denied a potential domestic double after losing to PSV Eindhoven in the KNVB Beker final on Sunday as ten Hag’s side saw two goals disallowed in Rotterdam.
In Europe this season Ajax cruised through their UEFA Champions League group with a maximum 18 points, but were beaten by Benfica in the first knockout round, 2-3 on aggregate.
Upon being announced as the new boss, ten Hag said: “It is a great honour to be appointed manager of Manchester United, I am hugely excited”.
Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar said: “We owe Erik a lot of thanks for what he has achieved with Ajax so far … he is going to make the step to one of the biggest clubs in the world, in a fantastic league”.
On ten Hag’s appointment, United director of football John Murtough was quoted as saying: “In our conversations with Erik leading up to this appointment, we were deeply impressed with his long-term vision for returning Manchester United to the level we want to be competing at, and his drive and determination to achieve that”.
United interim manager Ralf Rangnick is due to take up a consultancy role at the club when the current season seizes, and earlier this month the 63-year-old revealed to the media he had advised the United board to follow in the footsteps of the top two teams in the land.
Referring to Premier League title contenders Manchester City and Liverpool, Rangnick noted: “Those two teams have been built together and recruited over a period of five or six years, all of them under the premise of how do the coaches want to play?
I told the board this is what has to happen. Whenever the new head coach is clear, it has to be how does he want to play and what kind of players do we need for that?”
Rangnick added that United are not devoid in technical players and they perhaps could rather benefit from more physicality within their ranks.
“It takes the right decisions and where you want to go to, what kind of players, what kind of manager, and then in every transfer window try to get the best possible. This is not rocket science. It has to be done and if that happens it does not necessarily need three or four years, maybe two or three transfer windows, then the situation could be different.”
United have significantly reshaped their structure in between board and manager levels with the installation of Murtough as the club's first football director last year. There have been widespread reports that United are seeking the appointment of a deputy football director to assist Murtough in getting United back to where they intend to be.
Rangnick is set to further strengthen this intermediary department with his forthcoming advisory role and there has also been speculation that Manchester-born Paul Mitchell is outbound from his current post at AS Monaco and could be on the way back to his hometown.
The morning after a heavy defeat to Liverpool, correspondent Andy Mitten first reported United’s chief scout Jim Lawlor and its head of global scouting Marcel Bout were to both leave the club. Lawlor departs after 16 years working at United, while Bout was promoted in 2016 after joining as part of Louis van Gaal’s coaching staff two years prior.
ten Hag’s current Ajax collective may not be superior to his team of overachievers from the 2018/19 season, but he together with the Ajax recruitment department have done considerable work in rebuilding another strong side after a mesmerising campaign three years back.
During his first full season in charge, ten Hag guided Ajax to their first Eredivisie title in five years and the Amsterdammers also eliminated Real Madrid and Juventus on their way to reaching the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 1997 under van Gaal.
van Gaal, United manager from 2014-16 and currently in his third spell at the helm of the Netherlands national team, recently advised his countryman ten Hag against managing at a ‘commercial club’ such as United. van Gaal has previously critiqued the structure at United above the manager, suggesting that former executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has ‘zero understanding of football’.
ten Hag will require an efficient and competent department to work alongside when it comes to footballing matters, something United have been desperately devoid of for a number of years. At Ajax, ten Hag formed a strong alliance with CEO van der Sar and director of football Marc Overmars. The latter parted ways with the Dutch club earlier this year following his alleged involvement in a sexual harassment scandal.
ten Hag becomes the second Dutch manager to take the reigns at Old Trafford after van Gaal. With his impending move to Manchester there has been a flurry of speculation over potential members of ten Hag’s backroom staff, specifically pertaining to a handful of individuals with an affinity with the club.
Former players Jaap Stam and Robin van Persie have been linked with a return to the club, as have Steve McLaren and Rene Meulensteen who both previously worked under Ferguson. ten Hag was assistant manager to McLaren during the Englishman’s stint in charge of FC Twente.
Mitchell van der Gaag, currently assistant manager at Ajax, is set to follow ten Hag to Manchester. Ruud van Nistelrooy was tipped as a prospective addition to ten Hag’s coaching team but the ex-United striker has since been confirmed as the new manager of PSV starting next season.
There is a strong possibility ten Hag may look to bring at least one of his current Ajax players along with him to his new club. Ryan Gravenberch, 19, and Noussair Mazraoui, 24, would have been considered viable options however the Dutch midfielder and Moroccan right-back – both clients of super agent Mino Raiola – are close to completing moves to Bayern Munich.
Antony, 22, is a talented prospect but a hefty price tag may prevent United from acquiring the Brazilian international winger this summer. 20-year-old defender Jurrien Timber has risen through the ranks and emerged as a regular first-teamer under ten Hag’s tutelage, and United’s frail defence is undoubtedly crying out for some fresh faces.
ten Hag boasts a laudable track record of developing young players and he has extracted the most out of several Ajax academy prodigies, amongst them Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt before the pair made big-money moves to European powerhouses in 2019.
de Jong and de Ligt each fetched transfer fees upwards of €75m upon respective switches to FC Barcelona and Juventus. The following year Donny van de Beek was sold to United for €40m, Hakim Ziyech left for Cheslea costing €40m, and Sergiño Dest signed with Barcelona for a €20m price tag. That equals a total €250m received for five players produced and/or developed in Amsterdam.
This is not the first time Pochettino has been snubbed for the United gig, with the Argentine known to have wanted the Old Trafford hot-seat for a number of years. Pochettino was in the running to succeed José Mourinho but Solskjaer was given the job permanently in March 2019.
One thing Pochettino does have over ten Hag is Premier League experience, which to be frank is not the most reliable paradigm to go by as Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, José Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp all had no experience in the English top-flight at one point in their respective managerial careers. That quintet has gone on to capture a combined 24 Premier League titles – including this season’s by either Guardiola or Klopp – while Pochettino has won zero.