Erik Ten Hag has been appointed as Manchester United manager
Manchester United’s 1-3 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium all but ended any hopes of the club making it to the Premier League top four and securing a Champions League berth that comes with it. A season that began with so much promise has imploded in spectacular fashion, plunging the team to new depths.
In the run-up to the fixture at the Emirates, Manchester United finally confirmed the appointment of current Ajax manager Erik ten Hag on a three-year contract. The Dutchman will take over from incumbent manager Ralf Rangnick at the end of the current season and move to Old Trafford after an impressive four-year stint at Ajax.
Ten Hag boasts an impressive pedigree, but will be under no illusions as to the scope of the task at hand at Old Trafford. Here are five keys to success for the new Manchester United manager:
#1 Make the right recruitments
Manchester United’s recent transfer dealings have been characterized by inflated transfer fees and wages only for the players to massively underperform. It is imperative that Ten Hag gets the transfer window right.
Paul Pogba will not be renewing his Manchester United contract this summer
The needs of the squad are obvious. United require upgrades in the centre-back, right-back and central midfield positions. Signing a right-winger who can have a consistent impact and another world-class striker can only help. It is also important that they do not overpay for their targets.
Not many departures have occurred at Old Trafford. The club handed out massive contracts to underperforming players which meant other clubs were unwilling to pick up their contracts. A mass exodus needs to occur this summer and United desperately need to bring their ballooning wage bill under control. A number of players, including Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Edinson Cavani, are out of contract in the summer and are likely to leave.
With one of the most extensive scouting networks in world football, Ten Hag is going to be ideally positioned to make decisive moves in the transfer window. Get it wrong though, and he could struggle to make an impact.
#2 Unite the dressing room
All season long, there have been reports coming out of a fractured Manchester United dressing room. The performances on the pitch have done nothing to quell these rumors, with a noticeable lack of desire and concentration from the United players.
In the aftermath of United’s defeat to Arsenal, Paul Scholes confirmed the dismal mood in the dressing room and Scott McTominay too did not hold back in his post-match press conference, alluding to a number of issues amongst players and staff.
Ten Hag’s appointment was also not welcomed by all members of the United squad, and the new manager’s most immediate and pressing task will be to bring the dressing room together and get them to buy into his vision for the club.
#3 Get back to the Manchester United style of play
A common complaint against every manager taking the reigns at Old Trafford post the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson has been that they have strayed from the ‘United Way’. Manchester United have lacked an identity as an attacking unit, but at least until last season they had developed a reputation for being devastating on the counter-attack.
Ajax have been impressive under Erik Ten Hag
For all its deficiencies, Ten Hag will be inheriting a squad full of players who have the ability to be truly world class. Ten Hag’s Ajax are lauded for their attractive brand of football. Their run to the Champions League semi-finals in the 2018-19 season was proof that Ten Hag’s attacking philosophy could pay dividends.
United have often looked clueless in games this season while trying to break down teams that have sat back and defended against them. They have also made way too many mistakes defensively. Ten Hag needs to ensure that United have a cohesive style of play.
4. Resolve the captaincy situation
Harry Maguire’s time as club captain may be up
In a team with many big personalities, it was more important than ever that the captain be strong enough to keep the dressing room together when things were not going to plan. Harry Maguire has been unable to rally the squad this season when things started going wrong.
The players were quick to throw former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer under the bus after a poor run of results in the run up to Christmas. When United have found themselves trailing in games, Maguire has been ineffective in motivating the players and with his performances making his place in the starting lineup tenuous, it is time that he be stripped of the captaincy.
If Ten Hag does choose to retain Maguire as his captain, he will need to sit down with the defender and have a frank discussion with him regarding what is expected of him as captain. If not, Ten Hag has a number of viable captaincy alternatives. Whichever way he goes, Ten Hag needs to resolve the captaincy issue before the start of next season.
5. Have a long term plan
When you manage a club of the stature of Manchester United, instant success is demanded. Many of the moves made by the United management in the post-Ferguson era have smacked of desperation and ultimately not panned out.
Manchester United’s striker situation has been a prime example of this. United signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016, and followed it up with Edinson Cavani, Odion Ighalo and Cristiano Ronaldo. They have refused to look for a long-term answer to the position, instead opting for aging veterans in the hope that they can squeeze one more good season out of them.
Manchester United need to accept that the rebuild will not be completed over the course of a single summer. Ten Hag must be given enough time to achieve his vision, even if the going may be tough at the beginning. He will require time to get the players to buy into his system and establish some sort of identity. Getting back to the top will require a degree of patience and perseverance.