Can Erik ten Hag be the man to rejuvenate Manchester United, or will they maintain mediocrity?


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Manchester United last won the Premier League title back in 2013, and their progression since then has been way below-par by their standards.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure from the Red Devils after 26 years in charge would prove to be a big wake-up call for the Red Devils, with the Scotsman winning 38 trophies during his tenure. His fellow countryman David Moyes was the man appointed to take the reins, but he left after just nine months.

The managerial appointments that followed would have some form of success, with both Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho winning silverware during their time, but they will now go their fifth season in a row without a trophy. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time as boss ended just under three years after his return to the club, with Ralf Rangnick filling in as interim until the end of the season.

However the German has been unable to change their fortunes before the end of the campaign and United are now searching for their next permanent manager, with Ajax’s Erik ten Hag being the highly speculated name to be the next in line to take charge of the second most successful team in English football.

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Ten Hag is a former centre-back who spent most of his playing career at FC Twente. He took charge of Dutch giants Ajax towards the end of 2017, with de Godenzonen reaping the rewards ever since.

In his first full season in charge of the club he led them to their first Eredivisie title in five seasons, having previously fallen short of PSV and Feyenoord. They also reached the semi-finals of the Champions League thanks to wins against the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus, but they failed to reach the final as a result of Lucas Moura’s dramatic 96th minute winner for Tottenham Hotspur at the Johan Cruyff ArenA.

The following season was ended early due to the Covid-19 pandemic and despite Ajax finishing first before play was halted, they were not awarded with their 35th title. However they were able to reach such an achievement last season when they stormed the league once again, and they are on course to win it once more this year.

It has been heavily reported in recent days that ten Hag is soon set to be announced as the new permanent United manager, thus ending his four and a half year spell at the Dutch side. A huge job lies ahead of him, with the squad seemingly showing a lack of spirit and desire throughout much of their campaign.

It remains to be seen just how successful an appointment it could be for the Red Devils, but Prost International’s Alex Jones has followed his and Ajax’s progress for many years and has a good idea of how his tenure in Manchester could pan out.

“Erik ten Hag is one of the most intense managers you’ll find. He’s only focused on performances and results. He can’t have one without the other. Even if Ajax win a game 8-0, he’ll point out what his side did wrong before highlighting what they did well.

“He’s not at all emotional. He’s very much focused about the here and now. From Go Ahead Eagles to Bayern Munich II, then back to Holland with Utrecht and then to Ajax. It’s been a form of continuous progression. He’s done that with Ajax too, taking them from a side that have always competed at the top end domestically but fallen short in Europe, to a side that have totally dominated domestically and been a regular threat in the latter stages of the Champions League.

“When thinking about his progression, moving to Manchester United makes a lot of sense. But in a lot of other ways, it doesn’t.

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“There are a lot of similarities between Ten Hag and Ralf Rangnick. They’re both pretty dry personalities with very intense ideas about style of football, pressing, tactical shapes, etc. Rangnick has flopped at Manchester United. Will Ten Hag be different?

“Possibly, but it involves a total overhaul of the squad. The board, advised by Rangnick, have to do what Ten Hag wants. This involves sensible spending, rather than marquee, “PR signings”. The squad needs to be full of hard workers, rather than personalities. That’s crucial to any success he’s going to have.

“Tactically, it makes sense. Ten Hag prefers an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation, which is a system that suits the players at Manchester United. But they’ll have to become a possession heavy side, and their running stats will need to be through the roof.

“To summarise: yes, this appointment could be a masterstroke. But the same could’ve been said with José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær. They’re now trying a totally different formula of football to those two, one that they’ve tried in the last few months under Rangnick and hasn’t worked. So the board have to adapt to Ten Hag rather than vice versa, or it’ll just be a repeat of previous appointments.”

A huge summer transfer window awaits United, but then again you could have said the same about previous campaigns. The signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane last year brought optimism to the fans, but they have failed to have had as big of an impact as many would have expected.

There is no doubt that ten Hag has the ability to help turn United back into a force to be reckoned with but his first season in English football will be a big step to overcome. League success may also be more of a long-term target for the 52-year-old, with the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool dominating the Premier League in recent years and showing no signs of slowing down.

The Ferguson years brought constant success, so fans are far from used to a lack of trophies and therefore frustrations have been showing for some time now. It may be a slow process should he arrive, but such patience may prove to be incredibly worthwhile if he is able to deliver a league title or cup triumphs.

Only time will tell if he is the man to lead their resurgence but should the appointment fail to work, then United may soon run out of options, and their wait to compete at the top of English football once again could be extended even further.

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