Erik ten Hag arrives at Old Trafford as the latest in a line of managers faced with what seems to be an impossible task, restoring Manchester United to the top of English football. The storied club have won the English top flight 20 times, more than any other side, but they’ve fallen away over the last decade, since the retirement of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013. Ten Hag will have to accomplish a few key tasks if he has any chance of success.
For too long, Manchester United have lacked a real footballing identity. The club have lurched from manager to manager without much care for the effect that has had. Louis van Gaal’s disciplined, if turgid, positional play was followed by José Mourinho’s ultra-defensive approach. The only similarity between the two was that Mourinho managed to make the football even more turgid.
Manchester United don’t need to have an identity that flows through the club, but they do need a manager with a set style of play to imprint themselves on the club. Erik ten Hag should be able to provide that. The Dutchman spent five years at Ajax, a club where style of play is everything, and bringing that vision and focus to the Old Trafford dugout is a must.
Footage has already emerged of Erik ten Hag meeting fans and journalists at the club, as he attempts to establish his authority. A strong personality will be needed. The job comes with a great deal of scrutiny but, even beyond that, Ten Hag will have to wield a good amount of charm and charisma if he’s to bring one of football’s biggest clubs to heel.
Those who follow Arsenal credit Mikel Arteta’s ability to “manage up”, that is to say, the ease with which the Arsenal manager is able to convince decision makers at the club to buy into his vision. Ten Hag will need to do the same thing, and his task is almost certainly harder, given the focus that the United hierarchy seem to have on finances, rather than football.
Louis van Gaal spoke about Manchester United being a “commercial club” rather than a football club, and it’s hard to disagree with that position. His compatriot will have to find a way to break past that view, and refocus the owners on what happens on the pitch, if he’s to get the backing he needs to transform the club.
If Manchester United are to have any hope of returning to their former glories, and improving their football betting odds, their recruitment will simply have to get better. For years, United seem to have taken a scattergun approach, spending money on big names and hoping they’ll work well together.
The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo is a good example, with the club opting to bring him back to Manchester when they had the chance to spend money on much needed reinforcements in midfield and at full-back. In addition, several members of the squad may struggle to fit into Ten Hag’s style of play. David De Gea is a strong shot stopper, but his distribution is woeful, he’s poor at claiming aerial balls, and even sweeping several metres from his goal line seems beyond him, with the Spaniard now considered so unfit for a modern style of play that Luis Enrique has opted to look elsewhere for the Spanish national team.
Meanwhile, in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Manchester United have a right-back who offers nothing in attack, isn’t comfortable on the ball, and is a flawed defender. The hope for United fans is that Ten Hag will arrive with a clear idea of the profile of player he wants in each position. While there is a lot of work to do, if Ten Hag can convince the club to see things his way, United may be back on their way to the top.