Manchester United held “positive” talks with Erik ten Hag on Monday – with the club hierarchy thought to be impressed by his vision and philosophy.
The interview was part of the ongoing process to appoint the next permanent first-team boss.
That process is said to have now reached a more advanced stage, but does not mean Ten Hag has emerged as the club’s first choice.
As part of the process, United also plan to speak to their other preferred candidates.
According to United sources, there is no early favourite yet and they are open-minded about the identity of their new manager.
Sky Sports News reported earlier this week the other candidates are Mauricio Pochettino, Julen Lopetegui and Luis Enrique.
Ten Hag has a contract at Ajax that runs until the summer of 2023, but United’s good relationship with the Dutch club – former goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is chief executive – allowed them to speak to him.
The club want to make a decision on their next permanent manager as soon as possible. However, they have not put a formal deadline on the process, which is being led by Darren Fletcher and John Murtough.
Ajax and Ten Hag’s representatives have been contacted for comment.
United had previously distanced themselves from coverage suggesting they are circling around Thomas Tuchel amid Chelsea’s uncertain future with one source describing it as “media talk not reality”.
They maintained there is a four-man shortlist being considered to take charge of the club, which does not feature the reigning European Cup-winning manager.
United are aware the opening move for a new ownership group at Stamford Bridge will be to secure Tuchel’s future.
The 48-year-old has also displayed the absolute opposite of a desire to exit Chelsea, navigating difficult circumstances with aplomb and underlining his happiness despite the upheaval.
United want a manager in place ahead of the new season.
Analysis: Man Utd have long been admirers
Sky Sports News’ senior reporter Melissa Reddy:
Erik ten Hag having a formal interview with Manchester United will come as no surprise given his status as one of the most progressive coaches in Europe, and his long links to their managerial vacancy.
The 52-year-old has had admirers at Old Trafford stretching back to 2018/19, when his Ajax side knocked out Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16, before then stunning Juventus and only being denied a place in the final after Lucas Moura’s last-minute goal for Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham.
Ten Hag is a popular choice to take charge at Old Trafford and represents what is seen as a “fresh, exciting future”, although there is an acceptance risk is involved as it would be a sizeable leap for him.
The expectations, global glare placed on United, and level of competition at the top end of the Premier League is like nothing he would have previously experienced.
Ten Hag was interviewed by Spurs as a possible replacement for Jose Mourinho last summer, but they passed on the opportunity citing a lack of “charisma”.
The last highly successful Ajax coach to move to England’s top flight – via Inter – was Frank de Boer, who lasted just 77 days at Crystal Palace.
Being granted an audience with Ten Hag was made easy by United’s smooth relationship with the Dutch club.
Speaking to Pochettino, the other strong candidate, would not be as simple with Paris Saint-Germain not as obliging.
United’s insistence that there is “no early favourite” for the role, and that they are remaining open-minded, will not water down the feeling that Ten Hag is their man given the public nature of this development.
Both he and Pochettino are under contract at their clubs until June 2023, so compensation would be involved.
Julen Lopetegui and Luis Enrique are the other two men on the shortlist and the club state their desire is to follow the process with all candidates. United are eager to avoid the errors that have led to them searching for a fifth permanent manager in nine years.
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