Erik ten Hag is expected to be appointed as Manchester United’s next permanent boss, and his former and current players have detailed what life is like working under the Dutch coach
Erik ten Hag is edging closer to being named as Manchester United ’s next manager and with his impending arrival comes an air of anticipation from the fans and players about what to expect from the Ajax coach.
No one knows better than what life is like working with Ten Hag on a daily basis than his current and former players. And a pattern that appears to follow Ten Hag’s work, whichever club he works at, is the glowing reviews his players have left after playing under his management.
The 52-year-old is poised to sign a four-year contract in the coming weeks after verbally agreeing to personal terms with the Red Devils. He will be the fourth permanent manager at Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013
Ten Hag’s work at Ajax has earned him a certain pedigree in European football as well as in the Netherlands. He has guided the Dutch giants to two Eredivisie titles and could complete a third this season, as well as steering his side to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19.
But it is his work on the training ground, ability to improve players and nurture promising talent which has caught the eye of the Man United hierarchy. It remains to be seen how he will approach a United dressing room amid reports of a backlash from inside Old Trafford.
So, what can the Red Devils expect from their potential new boss? Mirror Football gives you the lowdown on what his former players have said about Ten Hag and life under the Dutchman.
The former Watford midfielder recently made a controversial move from rivals Feyenoord to join Ajax and the 30-year-old feels he has upped his game working under Ten Hag since his summer switch. But more importantly, he has been able to expand his versatility under his new manager.
“The fact that I have been able to develop myself under Ten Hag in several positions is also satisfying,” he said. “I was regarded as nothing more than a right winger, but this manager has used my qualities in slightly different positions.
“The coach explains most of what he wants to tell his players on the basis of video material, both in the team analysis and also individually. Everyone receives an explanation about what is being asked and what this manager would like to see in each position.”
One man who knows most about Ten Hag and United is the ex-Red Devils defender Daley Blind. Having spent four years in Manchester, the versatile defender then moved on to Ajax in 2018 and joined up with Ten Hag at his boyhood club.
The 32-year-old believes that Ten Hag embodies the philosophy of the late and great Johan Cruyff more than any other coach. And, an interview with BT Sport back in May 2019, Blind spoke of how he encourages his side to play.
“Johan Cruyff’s philosophy and spirit still flows around in this club,” Blind said. “Erik ten Hag is doing very well now. He wants us to play attacking football but most of all without any fear.”
Matthijs de Ligt
One of the key components of Ajax’s Champions League run was their 19-year-old centre-back De Ligt, who was made the club’s youngest-ever captain under Ten Hag. That belief gave the Dutch defender the chance to show his ability as one of Europe’s most talented youngsters and earn a £65m move to Juventus.
But even before his rise, he could see the benefit of working under him: “Everybody has a new start under Erik ten Hag with a new football vision and opinions and as a squad that can only be good for us in order to continue development in the future,” De Ligt told NOS in January 2018.
“The training is different under Erik ten Hag with a lot of focus on tactical elements and positional play and it is really instructive. I want to become even more consistent and develop my skills under our new manager Erik Ten Hag.”
One of Ten Hag’s most successful stories has been the acquisition and development of Brazilian winger Antony. The winger was signed from Sao Paulo for around £13m after the departure of Hakim Ziyech to Chelsea and has gone from strength to strength at Ajax.
Now relied upon as one of their key players, the 22-year-old is being tipped for a big move this summer with Barcelona reportedly keen. And Antony has paid tribute to Ten Hag’s impact on his career, revealing how his guiding hand helped him become a better footballer.
“Every player under his guidance becomes a better footballer through his training,” Antony told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. “Since my arrival, he has given me a lot of confidence and believed in what I can do. I am grateful to him for that. I respect him very much.”
Like Haller, Ten Hag’s work at Utrecht did not go unnoticed and left-back Emmanuelson — previously at Fulham and Ajax — spoke of his approach away from the pitch which helped their relationship.
“His strength is that he can really convince a team. The things he said before a game often happened during the match. Sometimes he would go for dinner with the guys; they could really speak their mind. You go through fire for somebody like him,” he told The Times.
“He is very flexible when it comes to his formation. If he moves to a new club, I think he will first look at which players he has at his disposal. He adapts a system to the players he has. Maybe he will get to spend a lot of money, but I hope he will get the commitment of the club like that so he can decide which players to go for.”
One of the players to build his reputation under Ten Hag is goalkeeper Onana, who rose to prominence after his Champions League heroics. After their incredible season that year, the Cameroonian lifted the lid on his tactics when out of possession, giving an indication of what United fans can expect.
“When we lose the ball, we must win it back immediately,” Onana told AFP in May 2019. “He [Ten Hag] is focused on that, he is always telling us that if we have control of the ball, we have the ability to push back any opponent.”
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