Erik ten Hag left Manchester United’s flops in no doubt of the rude awakening that awaits them under his management.
Ten Hag wasted no time in getting his message across before the United’s worst squad of the Premier League era had jetted off for their summer break. “Everywhere I was in my career, I had high demands on my players,” said Ten Hag. “I expect them to fight and give 100 per cent. Good is not good enough. No, not only that. We have to do better and they have to co-operate. They have to be unified, to form a team, and to battle the opponents.”
Former Ajax boss Ten Hag is United’s fifth permanent boss since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down in 2013, the last time the club won the league title. More decorated and experienced managers, like Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, have tried and failed before him at United, but Ten Hag is confident he can take them back to the top.
Given United finished the season in sixth place, 35 points behind champions Manchester City, with their lowest points total of the Premier League era, the task facing Ten Hag is enormous. But the 52-year-old cut a confident figure at his official unveiling at Old Trafford, outlining his vision for dragging the world’s biggest club out of its current malaise and bringing back the glory days.
Asked why he felt he could succeed where the likes of Van Gaal and Mourinho failed, Ten Hag said: “The confidence is that I have a good feeling from the people around. I have a good feeling from the meetings, we have a plan, and now it’s about getting the plan done, to get it into a process, to co-operate and to be consistent in our plan.
“When we have good people around, with the right connection and the right commitment, we will achieve the success we want. The plan is huge, and we only have a short time. First of all we will roll it out to the staff, then the players, and then you will see it.
“I’m looking forward to working with these players. The season before, this squad finished second in the league, so it has the potential. I think if we improve, if we can work with them, we can get more out of them than this season. We have a strategy, a concept, and we will work on that. I have to bring something to the club, a dynamic. If you want to get to the top, you have to be demanding and that is what we’re going to do.”
Ten Hag clearly knows his own mind and will need to show firm leadership in unifying a fractured squad full of cliques and players pursuing their own agendas. Such conviction came through when he was asked what he made of Van Gaal’s claim that his Dutch compatriot should choose “a football club not a commercial club.”
This was a reference to the perception United’s priority is financial, not sporting success, the impression van Gaal took from his time at Old Trafford. “I heard that, but I will draw my own line,” said Ten Hag. “I’m convinced it won’t be the case.
“I spoke with the directors about it and football is one, two, three in this club. We had good talks. We’re on the same page. That’s a good platform to start. I have confidence in the project. We have good people around, the right strategy and now we need to start work.”