Maybe the ink hasn’t dried, but it feels like current Ajax manager Eric Ten Haag is going to leave for Old Trafford after this season. Which is funny, like everything reports his hiring began to erupt a few hours after SI made it clear The board of Man United was not entirely surprised according to his interview. That’s how fast things can change in football, and especially in United, where the wind changes by the hour, new destinations and routes are announced so often, and everything remains exactly where you needed to start.
Ten Hag definitely comes with an exciting summary, if not a particularly complete one. He has been the manager of the “top flight” for only four seasons and this is your run in the Eredivisie as a top league. Ajax is certainly one of the leading clubs in the world, but it is largely based on its history. Their win with Benfica in the 1/8 finals of the Champions League last month certainly did not help the representative of Ten Hag, especially after they passed the group stage.
However, Ten Hag was able to create two different Ajax teams that overcame competition in the Netherlands and caused at least a sensation in Europe. His team from 2018-2019, which broke into the semi-finals of the Champions League and remained in the second half of the final, won almost every neutral fan. This team included Matthew De Ligt, Frankie De John, Hakim Zieh and Donnie van de Beek, who left Ajax and achieved various successes in the major leagues. Ten Hag has been able to recover from these departures and formalize the current team, which has several more exciting young men such as Ryan Gravenberg and Anthony. But it’s more about rehabilitated vets like Sebastien Haller, who washed up at West Ham but can’t stop killing Ajax. Or Dusan Tadic, who covers both Ten Hag’s Ajax teams. Or Stephen Berguis, buying from Feyenoord last summer.
And perhaps that’s part of the appeal of Manchester United. Now the team, of course, lacks the level of talent, it is just mixed without a holistic plan, like a Lego kid. Even though Paul Pogba is destined to nominate him this summer, and he most likely is, Ten Hag has a lot of projects you can try to rewrite. Marcus Rashford (see what I did there?) Would probably be first on the list. If van de Bieck returns from a loan to Everton, he will be a candidate. Harry Maguire can take advantage of the complete renovation.
But it’s the same old question for United and whoever is in charge. Ten Hag has undoubtedly benefited from Ajax’s unrivaled development system, and all those players who were the essence of the 2019 team were already there when Ten Hag was hired. Where is it at United? Is Ten Hag responsible for transfers? Did the circus clown committee assemble this detachment that no one can figure out? Who is responsible for the plan, if any?
And what was discussed after Ralph Ragnik appeared in the middle of this season, Ten Hag wants to play on a system that involves counter-pressure and a high line of defense. This high defensive line turned Maguire’s career into an episode of Benny Hill. Are you planning to find a new central defender? Two? Work with it?
Interestingly, SI’s initial report, in which United cooled down at Ten Hag, was his assertion of the team’s five-year recovery plan. This actually makes sense, as the only young players you can argue to be part of a great team are Rashford (and he will need help) and Jaden Sancho. Everyone else is closer to 30 than you would like (Fernandez, Maguire, Fred), not so good (McTominey, Van Bissac, Lindelof), or fast be in jail (Mason Greenwood). To say that this team needs a complete overhaul, and not one that can be done in just one or two summers, is not a big leap.
So, on the one hand, five seasons of being a real force sounds right. But if the United hierarchy still hopes to make chicken salad from the various levels of bird droppings that are available, five years will look like a horribly long time. Again, we don’t know which way the club wants to go. They probably don’t either.
Even if Ten Hag is able to maximize what is at hand, the team will still need a central striker and a supportive midfielder. Rumors that Harry Kane will come are more the same short-sightedness of United, as he is also approaching 30. Ten Hag can get more from this team than Ragnik, just by being a permanent manager, but how much? And again, what does that add to that?
Surprisingly, the reports say that “United” was scared of Mauricio Pachetino because he spent it from the last year of his contract with PSG. Now is United worried about costs? Any concerns that Pachetina will not be able to clamp down on the egos and shortcomings of the PSG team must be weakened by the fact that no one else has been able to. Thomas Tuchel couldn’t, and United would be very happy to have Tuchel’s record at Chelsea right now. Pachetina also has a proven track record in the Premier League at two clubs, while Ten Hag does not. While Ten Hag is certainly an explanatory and acceptable choice, there are echoes that United have fallen in price again.
So has Ten Hag’s plan changed? Is United finally ready to be patient and follow a consistent plan? It is hard to imagine that the United Council is ready not to take part in the Champions League for several years in a row, which, given the revival of Arsenal and the many clubs seeking to join the aristocracy, could make this a real possibility during United’s restructuring.
There is reason to believe that Ten Hag will be a success. But they are enough to make you think that at “Old Trafford” is still commonplace, which means more inertia.