The summer of 2022 promises to be the most important in Manchester United’s recent history.
After believing that the big-money additions of Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo last summer would turn them back into genuine Premier League title contenders, United are going to end the season trophyless once again and, potentially, without Champions League football secured for next season. The size of the challenge awaiting their next manager, therefore, is quite frankly enormous.
And all of the pointers suggest that the man tasked with overseeing that challenge could be Ajax boss Erik ten Hag. The Dutchman, as revealed by the Manchester Evening News is the club’s preferred candidate to succeed Ralf Rangnick, although Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino remains in the frame.
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Ten Hag has built up a reputation for being a hugely respectable and likeable figure in recent years because of the job he has overseen at the Johan Cruyff Arena. After taking over the reins in December 2017, succeeding Marcel Keizer, the 52-year-old has put the Dutch heavyweights back on the map, leading them to two Eredivisie titles and numerous scalps in the Champions League, all whilst playing an attractive brand of football and singing from the same hymn sheet that everyone within the club follows.
Ajax’s strict philosophy and collective vision is what has made Ten Hag’s tenure so successful. It has allowed him to have solid building blocks in place, develop youngsters, perfect recruitment, both in and out of the club, and enjoy plenty of success.
And it is the organization and structure that Ajax in place have that has enabled Ten Hag to make a roaring success of his time in charge. It is also why the Dutchman has attracted such commendable admiration from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.
“Erik is rightly regarded as one of the most exciting coaching talents in world football at the moment because of the work he does with Ajax,” Klopp said, speaking in December 2020. “Of course, it is a wonderful club – one of the stellar names of European football – but in this moment it is clear they have outstanding leadership of the organization and Erik is a big part of that.
“They have had to adapt in recent seasons after losing a few players to rival clubs. I remember from my own experience at Dortmund how that feels and what a challenge it is.
“How they deal with it is exceptional. The foundations of the team remain solid and they have recruited well.
“They have a clear identity. I love watching them, I have to say.”
In just a few sentences, Klopp has given United all the information they need to ensure Ten Hag, if he lands the job, is a success at Old Trafford. This summer is going to require enormous changes being made, both to the first-team squad and the overall culture and vision of the club.
There is not going to be a quick-fix to United’s recent troubles. Patience of the very highest order will be required from everyone.
Admittedly, with Manchester City and Liverpool continuing to dominate proceedings, it will be hard for any United supporter to continue watching the Reds lag behind. However, as proven with Klopp at Liverpool, getting the correct long-term vision, philosophy and manager in place will, eventually, make up for several years of disappointment and pain.
United have lacked a firm vision, a structured recruitment style and recognizable style of play for several years. This summer that needs to change, and in Ten Hag they could not wish for a better manager to work under a strict, uniformed policy that everyone buys into.
Appointing Ten Hag may be considered a risk because of his lack of experience managing a club of United’s size. However, nobody knows how it could work out until the water has been tested.
The Dutchman has earned the right to manage a club of the Reds’ stature, but it is vitally important that they create an environment where he can work to the very best of his capabilities. If they get that right, Ten Hag could prove to be a huge success, even if patience will continue to be needed for a while.
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