Unlike a whole host of top managers around the world, Ten Hag’s playing career was rather unspectacular. He does not have the illustrious history of Pep Guardiola, Patrick Vieira, or Steven Gerrard- instead, more akin to the recently-sacked Sean Dyche.
Erik ten Hag’s much anticipated move from Ajax to Manchester United was confirmed via Fabrizio Romano today. So, what can we expect from United going forward? What sort of players might ten Hag be looking to bring with him? And how will this transform the Red Devils’ style of play?
Who is Erik ten Hag?
He was a 5’11” centre-back most well known for his three stints at Eredivisie-club FC Twente, where he won his only accolade as a player; the KNVB Cup (Dutch cup) in 2001.
However, it would be his managerial career that would prove far more fruitful.
Ten years after his retirement from the playing game, ten Hag was appointed by Marc Overmars at Go Ahead Eagles in the Dutch second tier (whom the ex-Arsenal star was a shareholder of).
Impressively, at his only season in charge of the club, he brought them back to the Eredivisie for the first time in 17 years- showing early signs of a tactical genius in the making.
This caught the eye of giants Bayern Munich, who put ten Hag at the helm of their second team, then playing in the regional fourth division of Germany. This stint was less successful, however, as the then 45 year old failed to win a new contract after only two seasons with the club despite recording league finishes of 1st and 2nd.
There hasn’t been a single month Erik ten Hag has been unemployed since his delve into management, as he joined FC Utrecht in a Sporting Director/head coach capacity shortly after leaving Bavaria.
It was here where he made his mark and announced himself in Dutch football, leading Utreg to a 5th and then 4th place finish, booking a spot in the Europa League qualifiers for the first time in 4 years, a competition they had only played in on 3 occasions prior.
Notable wins against Real Madrid and Juventus in their remarkable 18/19 UEFA Champions League campaign, as well as 4 league & 2 domestic cup wins, is enough to make every top club take notice- regardless of their competition.
His record at Ajax, albeit against what many would consider “lesser” opposition, is nothing short of spectacular. As well as the aforementioned highlights, he has a 73.81% win record (at time of writing), an astonishing 155 wins in 210 games.
Potential United Transfers
What players might Erik ten Hag look to bring along with him from Amsterdam, and how would they fit in the current United team?
It perhaps would have made sense for United to throw themselves in the chase for right-back Noussair Mazraoui on a free transfer, and wonderkid Ryan Gravenberch for a sensationally-low €25 million. Right-back and central midfield certainly being two positions United certainly lack talent (sorry AWB!)
But reports have confirmed that Bayern Munich are beyond favourites for the acquisition of these two stars, adding to their impressive transfer history. A transfer policy that have seen the likes of Alphonso Davies, Robert Lewandowski, Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka, and Joshua Kimmich move to Bavaria for a shrewd combined fee of €30 million.
To put that in perspective, Bayern essentially built half of a Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League winning side for almost a third of the price Manchester United paid for Harry Maguire.
Although that ship has seemingly sailed, there is a wealth of talent at Ajax that would help ten Hag transform United back into the side they once were.
Brazilian winger Antony is on the shortlist of multiple top clubs around Europe having recorded 12 goals and 8 assists in 39 games this season in all competitions- including 6 goal contributions in 7 games in the Champions League. However, with a valuation of around €50 million and the likes of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Elanga already covering the wings, would this be the most sensible piece of business from the Red Devils?
A position of much more worry for United is centre half- where captain Harry Maguire has been far more of a liability than asset. Jurriën Timber, a pacey central defender would be the perfect fit next to the injury-prone Raphaël Varane.
The Ajax-academy graduate has been outstanding this season, finding himself in the top percentile for pass completion (94.7%), progressive passes per 90 minutes (6.45), dribbles completed p/90 (just under 1) and the top 5 for blocks p/90 (2.36). Only Aymeric Laporte ranks higher in these departments across Europe.
In fact, the 20-year old would be good enough to not only be a consistent starter at centre-half, but fill in at right-back and even holding midfield when called upon. For a recorded fee of €30-€50 million, surely this is a no-brainer for United?
A name that has somewhat gone under the radar when people discuss ten Hag’s potential transfer dealings is that of Edson Álvarez. Signed for €15 million from Club América in the summer of 2019, Álvarez has been outstanding in Erik ten Hag’s midfield. He ranks in the top two percentile for his pass completion (an unbelievable 92.3%) and clearances p/90 (2.91), as well as the top 5 for aerials won p/90 (also 2.91) proving a real presence in their midfield.
Holding midfield is a position United have been desperate for over the last few years, can the Mexican be the answer to their pleas?
You may have noticed my failure to mention the superb Lisandro Martínez, who has been a stalwart at the back for Ajax over the past three years. However, at 5’9″, I really struggle to believe he will cut it as a centre-back in the physical and demanding Premier League. I think it’s fair to say the likes of Chris Wood and Raúl Jiménez would have a field day lining up against him.
Steven Berghuis may also be on the radar for the Red Devils, but previously failing to make an impact in the Premier League with Watford in 2017- albeit under the woeful management of Quique Sánchez Flores- and occupying a position already filled by Bruno Fernandes- they may take their interest elsewhere.
Expected Style of Play
How did Erik ten Hag utilise his Ajax team over the past few years?
He has been consistent with his form of 4-3-3 while preserving the Ajax way- Totalvoetbal (total football)- scoring goals by breaking down their opponents.
The team has been well coached, with little to no unsettlement or arguments in the dressing room- something United certainly are looking to change.
He also keeps his creative and attacking players fluid, as a result, ex-Southampton Dušan Tadić occasionally even being deployed as a 9.
However, there have been moments where de Godenzonen have looked weak, sometimes struggling to find an opportunity for an attempt on goal. This was evident in their second leg against SL Benfica in the Champions League, and their most recent Eredivisie loss to his former club Go Ahead Eagles. It does appear he may lack a plan B.
But, with the money and calibre of players at United, you’d hope this is something he will leave behind in mainland Europe.
So, do you think Erik ten Hag’s move to Manchester United will work out? How many Ajax players will follow him to Old Trafford? And will the Red Devils make a return to their former glory under new guidance?
If you liked this article, check out my twitter for much more @lukereevey
If you enjoyed the read, have a look at one of my other articles– click the link here to see my piece on LGBTQ+ within men’s football!
Also, make sure to follow us on Twitter @FootballOTH and @OTHeroics for all your sporting needs! Come discuss this and much more!
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images