Erik ten Hag looks set to take over at Manchester United next season after four years with Ajax, and the Dutchman’s work in the Netherlands will give the Red Devils reason to feel positive
It is no surprise that Manchester United are closing in on the appointment of Erik ten Hag as their next permanent manager to begin a new era at Old Trafford after watching four-year plan at Ajax turn to success.
It is understood that the Dutchman, who has been one of the frontrunners for the job along with PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino, is set to finalise a deal to take over from next season. The 52-year-old is expected to bring an end to his four-year spell as Ajax’s head coach since January 2018 at the end of the campaign.
It appears his work with the Dutch giants has impressed the Man United hierarchy enough to entrust him with the manager’s job for the 2022-23 campaign, while Tottenham were also linked last year. But what exactly are United expected to get from Ten Hag after his spell in Netherlands? Mirror Football looks at the highly-rated coach’s work with Ajax and how it may influence his role in Manchester.
The team he inherited
Ajax chose Ten Hag to replace Marcel Keizer in January 2018 after watching the Dutchman turn FC Utrecht from Eredivisie minnows into a side challenging for Europe. And while the squad he had was talented, it required some fine-tuning to turn them into a team capable of making an impact on Europe.
The club’s famous academy had produced a number of rising talents for Ten Hag to nurture, including Donny van de Beek, Frankie De Jong and Justin Kluivert, with a mixture of seasoned internationals like Lasse Schone and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Ten Hag’s only signing in the transfer window was to bring in Nicolas Tagliafico for just £4million and the Argentinian proved to be a bargain.
Later on, more promising players would be given a chance to show their ability under Ten Hag, with Matthijs de Ligt captaining the side at the age of just 19 and Sergino Dest impressing at right-back. And that bodes well for the current crop of youngsters desperate to impress the incoming new boss.
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Achievements at Ajax
Not since 1996 had Ajax reached the Champions League final — and in 2018-19 under Erik ten Hag, they were seconds away from ending their long exile. Having stunned Tottenham 1-0 at their new stadium, the Dutch side raced into a 3-0 aggregate lead in the semi-final second leg, but Lucas Moura popped up with a 96th-minute goal to break their hearts so late in the game.
That was as close any Dutch club had come to reaching the promised land in the 21st century, but Ten Hag has not let their disappointment cloud their success at domestic level. After missing out the title in his first campaign in 2017-18, Ten Hag guided his team to a triumph the following season, scoring an incredible 119 goals in 34 games.
Ajax had been leading the 2019-20 table before the coronavirus struck, forcing the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) to cancel the season. But they made up for lost time by reclaiming the title in 2020-21, finishing 16 points clear of PSV. On both occasions, Ten Hag guided his team to an Eredivisie and KNVB Cup double — and United will be hoping he can bring a similar vein of success back to the club after five seasons without a trophy.
State of play
If he does get the job as expected with United, Ten Hag has left Ajax in superb shape. Leaving on a high would be the way that he would prefer to go out and the Eredivisie leaders, with six games remaining, look in good shape to claim a third title in four seasons as they are four points clear of PSV Eindhoven.
There are not many clubs around Europe that can demonstrate a better defensive record either. Despite losing Andre Onana to a doping ban, Ten Hag’s side have played free-flowing football and conceded only 14 goals in their 28 games this season, scoring 83 at the other end.
It would be unfair not to mention how the highly-rated coach has coped with key departures over the years. De Ligt, Ziyech, Van de Beek, De Jong and Dest have all been sold, but Ajax have not lost their quality. Instead, Ten Hag has found bargains, with £20m signing Sebastien Haller proving to be a revelation since linking up with his former boss from West Ham. Antony, now seen as the star of Ajax’s side after replacing Hakim Ziyech in 2020, could be set for a big switch when Ten Hag leaves having been signed for just £13m from Sao Paulo, showing he has left them in good hands.
His Man Utd task
The squad Ten Hag will inherit at United is filled with star names that need fresh impetus — and that’s where the former Bayern Munich II manager can work his magic. Players like Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire and Jadon Sancho could benefit from unlocking their ability and Ten Hag’s positive management and tactics tend to have that effect on the players who work under him.
In the Netherlands, he has been likened to Pep Guardiola due to his preference for a possession-based game with a fast tempo. Considering the negative style that United fans have seen from their team over the past five seasons, that will be welcomed by Red Devils fans.
It is widely expected Ten Hag will keep his favoured 4-3-3 formation and that could see Sancho return to his best form. Similarly, the improvement of Fred and Scott McTominay could be key in helping Ten Hag form his midfield three, while Van de Beek may now see a brighter future at the club after making just four starts since his £35m move in 2020.
Overall, there is no doubt that the appointment of Ten Hag points to the club’s desperation to get back to winning trophies with a progressive coach. There will likely be some more patience allowed if he makes a slow start, considering Ralf Rangnick’s comments regarding Jurgen Klopp and Guardiola’s projects at Liverpool and Manchester City. But he will need to be backed in the transfer market to put his Ajax blueprint into place at United.