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Manchester United - Football: Erik ten Hag appointed as manager

After weeks of rumours, Manchester United have announced the appointment of Erik ten Hag as manager.

Original article published 23 April 2022

The Dutchman was thought to be on a two-man shortlist alongside Mauricio Pochettino but the Red Devils have opted for the 52-year-old, who has signed a three-year deal with an option for a further season.

After a few days where it was suggested he could snub the Red Devils for RB Leipzig, he will become the latest man to take over the Old Trafford hot seat, with his goal to bring the regular silverware missing since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure in 2013 back to the club.

Who is Ten Hag?

This might be a question a number of United fans are asking, similar to when Ralf Rangnick came in, as his success has not always been appreciated by the wider footballing world.

Like several other top coaches, Ten Hag enjoyed a solid but unspectacular playing career, retiring in 2002 at the age of just 32 following his third spell with Twente. He would enjoy success in Enschede as Steve McClaren's number two and got his first managerial role with Go Ahead Eagles.

After a spell working with Bayern Munich II, he really started to be noticed at Utrecht, guiding the club to fifth in his first season and fourth in his second and was appointed by Ajax in December 2017.

His CV since then is sparkling, leading the club to two Eredivisie crowns and two KNVB Cups. He also guided de Godenzonen to the brink of the Champions League final in 2019, only for Lucas Moura to break their hearts with a 96th-minute winner.

A familiar look to his staff

The first man to try his luck in the role post-Ferguson was David Moyes, anointed as the 'Chosen One' after being handpicked by his fellow Scot as his replacement. However, Moyes was criticised from the off, with his decision to bring his own staff in, rather than stick with Ferguson's, seen as a weakness.

Ten Hag will bring his own men in but there is also a feeling of a back to the future look to those set to surround him. McClaren is expected to return as his assistant, having previously worked as Ten Hag's boss in the Netherlands.

Before he went on to manage the likes of Twente, Wolfsburg, Newcastle and, of course, England, McClaren was part of Sir Alex Ferguson's backroom team, most famously helping the Red Devils win the Treble in 1998/99.

Former striker Robin van Persie, the Premier League Golden Boot winner the last time Man Utd topped the Premier League standings in 2012/13, is also expected to be recruited.

What will Ten Hag bring to Old Trafford?

The word 'philosophy' gets thrown around in football these days and was particularly well used during Louis van Gaal's two-year spell at Old Trafford. Like Ten Hag, Van Gaal enjoyed arguably his greatest moments as a coach, at club level at least, with Ajax.

However, while 'King Louis' was unwavering in his devotion to his view of the game, Ten Hag's teams play with more expression. For instance, the energetic young side he employs at Ajax is somewhat at odds with the more rigid approach utilised by the current Netherlands coach.

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Ten Hag follows the Ajax blueprint of a flexible 4-3-3 capable of morphing into either a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3 when required and is happy to change shape in-game if it helps disrupt the opposition.

While the 52-year-old has said he always looks to build his teams around the club's DNA, the differences between Ajax and United will not deter him from his main goal of playing attacking football. Similar to how Dusan Tadic has starred under him, the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho could thrive.

With an in-form Sancho on the right and an inspired Rashford on the left, even Cristiano Ronaldo may find it difficult to find reasons to reprimand his teammates for their level of service.

Will Ten Hag have full control?

This is an interesting question and Ronaldo's presence may be the key. There are rumours the Portuguese regrets his return to United and could leave in the summer.

With the 37-year-old unlikely to sign a deal beyond his current terms to 2023, would Ten Hag look to move him aside early, or would the board twist his arm into sticking with their top scorer?

Previous United coaches have often hinted at boardroom interference, with the feeling away from the club that those upstairs are more interested in shirt sales than trophies.

Anyone who watched the 1-0 defeat at Everton will have seen how disjointed the squad is, with players signed under Ferguson, Moyes, Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer all still involved. With the team currently sat seventh in the table, 14/1 for a top four finish, a clean slate is required.

There are also questions reading the structure above him. Coming from the Netherlands, Ten Hag has plenty of experience working under a director of football or technical director, a role currently occupied by Darren Fletcher.

Players who could benefit

Ten Hag is an innovative coach who, while possessing clarity over his preferred style of play, is always looking to evolve.

Perhaps his most impressive feat has been to regularly regenerate his squad. Take a look at the team that lost to Spurs in 2019 and you'll see that 13 of the matchday 18 from that evening are no longer at Ajax.

Since then, Ten Hag and his coaches and scouts have used their talents to develop a host of youngsters, including changing their positions.

Mexican Edson Alvarez has been transformed from a central defender into a marauding midfielder, similar to Declan Rice. Meanwhile, it could be argued he has done the opposite with Lisandro Martinez, using the relatively diminutive Argentine almost exclusively in central defence where he can utilise his cultured left boot to start attacks.

This takes time and Ajax's devotion to developing young players into global stars has allowed him breathing room in Amsterdam. The same patience will be required if he is to have the same impact at Old Trafford.

After so much chopping and changing, it could now be wise for the Man Utd board to stick with a coach and allow him to develop players, rather than splash the cash on global stars who struggle to fit into the team.

Sancho and Rashford could be real examples of this, while Fred's resurgence under Rangnick may see him partnered in midfield by a certain Donny van de Beek.

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