Manchester United have made the right choice if they have identified Erik ten Hag as their next manager – but they will have to give the current Ajax coach complete and unwavering support.
United need someone to rebuild the first team from scratch with clear ideas and a philosophy. Ten Hag has long been a thinker about the game and is now an educator with a hands-on approach to coaching. That has helped him to steadily build his standing as a coach at Ajax, winning two domestic doubles and reaching a Champions League semi-final, despite no great playing career of note.
Ten Hag can arrive at Old Trafford without the baggage of past failures, unlike his main rival for the United position, Mauricio Pochettino, who I feel is still slightly bruised from his sacking by Tottenham Hotspur in 2019.
More than that, though, Ten Hag’s recent experience is better suited to the task in Manchester. At Paris Saint-Germain, Pochettino has been focused on winning the Champions League, with little regard for the under-17s. United, on the other hand, is a bricks-and-mortar job that will involve a rebuild at all levels.
Star factor will be a factor at the Premier League club, and a new challenge for a man who has never managed a top-flight team outside of Holland. Ten Hag is big on drills and some players can resist that if they think they have seen it all before. Getting the best out of a squad that has already been hit and miss under several managers will be among his biggest tests.
The pressure at United will also be different to anything he’s experienced before. That is only heightened by two of their neighbours, Manchester City and Liverpool, taking football to new levels.
But United need to look at the big picture and back Ten Hag to implement his vision. The appointment of Ralf Rangnick as interim manager has been a failure and rightly attracted plenty of criticism. Now club chiefs have to think about the next 10 years.
Jurgen Klopp took a route not unlike Ten Hag’s before joining Liverpool, and needed almost four years to deliver a trophy. Recruitment is key in a rebuild like this and Klopp worked closely with Michael Edwards to make the right signings for his system to Anfield. Ten Hag needs the same kind of relationship at United.
Ten Hag has time to get players in and set the mood for next season. Among his first tasks will be to restore discipline and hard work. If he does that, I expect United to challenge for the top four next season and get better the longer that he is in charge.
Everton’s big chance
It has turned into a two-horse sprint for survival at the bottom of the Premier League, and Burnley’s draw against West Ham on Sunday will have made Everton itch.
Still, I think long-serving manager Sean Dyche’s departure from the Clarets will give Everton hope ahead of an enormous home match against Leicester City on Wednesday.
I don’t think it will take anything like the usual 40 points to secure top-flight safety this season, so another win for Frank Lampard’s team would go a very long way to staving off relegation.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. @TrevorSteven63.