Erik Ten Hag and Manchester United: A Match Made In Heaven?

Erik ten Hag
Photo Credit: AP

After much deliberation, it is finally official: Erik Ten Hag is the new Manchester United manager.

Known predominantly for his success at Ajax, Ten Hag looks set to revolutionise the brand of football on show at Old Trafford.

Ten Hag has already hinted at summer departures and we could see a much-changed United on the first day of next season.

While winning the Premier League title in 2022/23 is out of the question, the Red Devils can certainly use the campaign as the platform for success.

As with any manager, Ten Hag is going to need time. One – to adapt to the Premier League. And two – to build a squad that is capable of winning trophies.

The main objective for Ten Hag is to get Man United back to the top of English football.

That may take several years but the Ajax man looks to have the skills required to thrive at The Theatre of Dreams.

Here, we discuss Erik Ten Hag’s style and how Manchester United may fare under him. If – and it’s a big if – the players buy into his approach, he could be a match made in heaven.

Why Erik Ten Hag?

With 10 years of managerial experience, Ten Hag remains a relatively unknown quantity at the forefront of European football.

Excluding his two-year tenure at Bayern Munich II, the entirety of Ten Hag’s managerial career has been spent in The Netherlands.

While his lack of Premier League experience is a concern, Ten Hag believes in ‘total football’ and the Dutch philosophy will go down well at Old Trafford.

Possession is king, according to Erik Ten Hag. Inspired by Pep Guardiola’s managerial style, Ten Hag believes in pressing from the front and dominating possession.

In addition, Ten Hag often selects a false nine in the centre forward position – in a similar way to how Jurgen Klopp uses Roberto Firmino at Liverpool.

Erik ten Hag

Ten Hag offers a completely different style to the likes of Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his thinking is more in line with the modern game.

Back in February 2019, the Dutchman admitted to developing his own style from watching Guardiola.

“I learned a lot from Guardiola,” Ten Hag revealed. “His philosophy is sensational, what he did in Barcelona, Bayern and now with Manchester City.

“That attacking and attractive style sees him win a lot. It’s this structure that I’ve tried to implement with Ajax.”

If you watch Ten Hag’s Ajax team closely, you’ll immediately notice how every player knows their job, the movement is constant and they strangle opposing sides.

The ‘total football’ 4-3-3 formation is one that Ten Hag has stuck with throughout his career and Man Utd fans should expect that approach to be implemented next season.

The Right Decision?

Even Ralf Rangnick himself acknowledged that Man United play some dreary football at times and Ten Hag will bring a fresh outlook.

In theory, the days of dull and ponderous football will be over and United could begin their journey back to the summit with an exciting approach.

The key phrase there is in theory. Until Ten Hag is in the Old Trafford dugout, it is impossible to tell whether his impact and influence will turn the tide.

The United hierarchy must let Ten Hag have complete control over his squad. If he decides that a player isn’t quite up to scratch, that player simply has to go.

The only way a complete overhaul and switch will work is if Ten Hag is given Sir Alex Ferguson-like responsibility. While it is a bold move, that is the only way – Man United must go ALL IN on Ten Hag.

Critics will point to Ten Hag’s lack of experience outside of The Netherlands and that is a fair point. However, supporters must realise that Ten Hag’s influence is a process and it will take time.

Remember – Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp needed time to mould their squads before any sustained period of dominance. And now look at them…

United’s closest rivals, historically and geographically, are now the two dominant forces in European football.

The pendulum could swing back in favour of the Red Devils but it’s not going to be a quick fix. Patience is required for United to reap the full rewards of Ten Hag’s style.

Ten Hag To Succeed At Old Trafford?

It is impossible to say at this stage but – on paper at least – Erik Ten Hag looks the perfect fit for Manchester United.

With the likes of Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani heading for the exit, Ten Hag has the chance to start an immediate rebuild. Erling Haaland transfer news is rife with a switch to Manchester but will it be red or blue?

The future of Cristiano Ronaldo could be key to Ten Hag’s approach. If Ronaldo wants to leave, that may accelerate the process.

The new Man Utd manager will have a difficult job leaving Ronaldo out if he does stay but there are doubts that he will suit Ten Hag’s aggressive approach.

Defensively, United are a mess and Ten Hag is likely to focus primarily on fixing that area of the pitch before looking at the final third.

Erik ten Hag

Don’t expect the Red Devils to challenge for silverware next season. That would be both foolish and unrealistic – Ten Hag is going to need time.

Some players on the fringes will need to make an instant impact, others need a major reality check if they are intent on staying at Old Trafford.

Either way, United have dropped so far off the pace in the last 12 months that it is going to be a long term project. And if there’s any manager who is suitable for that, it’s Erik Ten Hag.

The Dutchman isn’t necessarily the saviour but his insistence on a pressing style is in line with the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Bayern Munich.

Is it a coincidence that these are the most dominant teams in Europe right now? Of course it’s not.

Remember, even Sir Alex Ferguson needed time to kickstart his Old Trafford tenure. Buy into Ten Hag and the sky is the limit for Manchester United.