A hard-working, unified team playing attacking and entertaining soccer.
Erik ten Hag has set out his vision for Manchester United after being presented as the fifth manager in nine years at a fallen giant coming off its worst ever season in the Premier League.
“The current situation is obviously not that good. It’s a big challenge,” Ten Hag said Monday when he made his first visit to Old Trafford.
The previous day, Ten Hag was at Selhurst Park to watch United lose 1-0 at Crystal Palace to conclude a fifth straight season without a trophy and finish the league in sixth place on 58 points — its lowest total since the Premier League was created in 1992.
United has resembled a dysfunctional club this season — on and off the field — and Ten Hag will front a huge rebuilding job after joining from Ajax, which he returned to the summit of Dutch soccer by adopting the attacking philosophy of the team’s most famous player, Johan Cruyff.
He wants to do the same at United in a bid to end its longest trophy drought in nearly 40 years, with its last piece of silverware being the Europa League in 2017.
“I want to build and construct a team who are battling for each other, who are unified and who will get results,” he said. “Also we are playing in the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ — we want to entertain. But in the end, the intention is to play fantastic football. If we can’t play fantastic football, we still have to win.”
Ten Hag spoke of the “fighting culture” that marked past United teams and said there is clearly potential in the current squad, given it finished second in the league in the 2020-21 season.
This season, United was 35 points behind champion Manchester City.
“It’s a process,” Ten Hag said. “It will take time but I’m convinced we will come to that point where we get success. We have to work hard and it has to be based on the right philosophy and strategy.”
That includes doing “the pressing, the total high-pressing … and the adventurous football” that was the signature of his Ajax team.
Ten Hag stressed the need to have a “concept” and a “strategy” — without going into exactly what that entails — but did say he would need to adapt to United, too.
“It’s about the Man United football and about the Man United identity and philosophy,” he said. “It has to be about attacking football. We have to bring structures in the way of playing, so we can play attacking football.”
Ten Hag made sure to keep a link to the great United teams led by Alex Ferguson when making choosing his backroom staff.
Steve McClaren will be one of Ten Hag’s two assistants, with the former England coach returning to Old Trafford for a second spell after being the No. 2 to Ferguson in 1999-2001 — when United won three straight league titles.
“This club has a great history,” Ten Hag said. “Let’s now make a future. I’m really excited to do that.”
RONALDO AND MAGUIRE
Even though Cristiano Ronaldo finished his first season back at United with 18 league goals, there are question marks over whether, at 37, he will suit Ten Hag’s high-energy style of play.
Asked whether Ronaldo fits into the project, Ten Hag said: “Of course.” Asked what Ronaldo brings, Ten Hag simply said: “Goals.”
Ten Hag did not say whether Harry Maguire would stay on as captain for next season after the England defender’s shaky performances over the past year for his club.
“Next season is a different season,” Ten Hag said in reference to Maguire.
Ten Hag hardly gave a ringing endorsement to Ralf Rangnick, who led United as interim manager in the second half of the season and was expected to stay on in a consultancy role.
Rangnick has been vocal about what needs to change at United for the team to start challenging for the big titles once again, saying there could be as many as 10 players signed in the offseason.
Ten Hag said he would make the final decisions, and that it was “on the club” to decide whether Rangnick remains at United.
“I analyze by myself, I observe and I speak with a lot of people,” he said. “But finally, I will draw my own line.”