With Erik ten Hag set to become Manchester United’s next manager, the opinion from his native Netherlands, where he is managing Ajax, is of a smart coach who will fix the club’s tactical woes
Manchester United have produced more than enough schoolboy errors recently as their season fizzles out.
But incoming coach Erik ten Hag is the boss to finally inspire United back to the top of the class, according to one fellow former pupil.
Rik Elfrink went to the De Bouwmeester school with Ten Hag in Haaksbergen before he went on to play for Twente. Elfink is now a respected Dutch journalist with ED in Holland and knows Ten Hag and his methods well.
He says Ten Hag had to win over Ajax supporters sceptical at his appointment in 2017, and backs him to do the same at United. The Dutchman, 52, will take over at Old Trafford this summer to replace Ralf Rangnick, who was appointed interim manager in November following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dismissal.
Official confirmation of Ten Hag’s appointment on a three-year deal is not expected before Ajax’s Dutch Cup final against PSV Eindhoven on Sunday. But Ten Hag, 52, will become the fifth permanent manager at United since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 as the club aim to end their silverware drought.
Elfrink assessed: “Erik is a guy from the east Netherlands. He has had to overcome some resistance in Amsterdam because the west of the Netherlands is different. But he is a very determined and serious guy. Sometimes he seems a bit nerdy maybe but it is not easy to stay coach of Ajax for over four years after coming as an outsider.
“At school he was the best player and normally the players of our school went to FC Twente. He was one of them and he was a good level. Erik was then with respect an average player in the Eredivisie but a smart, clever player in midfield. He was always busy with tactics.”
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Another Dutch journalist, Marco Timmer from Football International saw Ten Hag at the start of his coaching career with Go Ahead Eagles before he moved to Bayern Munich’s second team and then Utrecht, where he earned a move to the capital.
Timmer expects Ten Hag to play 4-3-3 at United using wingers and young players which he deployed at Ajax and his previous clubs. He says his compatriot has a variety of skills to help him succeed at Old Trafford.
This is despite comparing Ten Hag to Louis van Gaal,70, who bossed United previously from 2014-2016 and lifted the FA Cup before still being replaced. Timmer said: “Go Ahead Eagles was his first job as a coach. I support the team and saw him everyday. He is a little bit of a workaholic and also a bit of a control freak. He has knowledge of tactics, techniques and sports science after he went to Germany to research which is the best way to prepare the team in a physical way.
“He is a top coach who will do well. He wants to win and plays dominant attacking football with the door closed. He reminds me of Van Gaal: as a coach they are similar, but as persons they differ. Van Gaal is like a teacher and Erik is more easy-going and humble.”
Ajax lead the Eredivisie by four points from PSV as they aim to win a third League title under Ten Hag. Supporters are sorry to see him leave but hope he can bow out with a League and Cup double before Peter Bosz potentially returns as boss.
Fan Jason Saynor, speaking in the shadow of Johan Cruyff’s statue at the Ajax Arena, said: “At Manchester United with the players they have, he should be able to get a good structure in the team and improve the chemistry that is missing. When he goes I hope he leaves us with the Cup and the title. We would have liked to win the Champions League too, but maybe he can do it with Manchester.”