The winds of change are about to blow through Old Trafford, but there are more than a few careers on the pitch on the line with the appointment of Erik ten Hag.
The Dutchman will become the fifth permanent manager since Sir Alex Ferguson when he takes over from interim Ralf Rangnick this summer and he will be in no doubt just how much has to change to get this club back on track.
Ten Hag is the crowd-pleasing appointment, the overwhelming favorite amongst United fans, but his reputation has been almost entirely forged in the shadows of the mainstream.
READ MORE: United to defy players with Ten Hag appointment
The 52-year-old is exciting because he’s an unknown. He’s built impressive Ajax teams, but they’ve underachieved in three successive seasons in Europe, playing some dazzling football before departing earlier than expected.
United have been hamstrung to a degree by the lack of a truly standout candidate this summer. It is essentially boiled down to a race between Mauricio Pochettino and Ten Hag.
They were the two leading candidates when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked in November and that has never changed, despite a thorough process being conducted by football director John Murtough and chief executive Richard Arnold.
So whoever got the job this summer was going to represent a gamble, but it does feel like Ten Hag is the bigger risk, although maybe he also has the bigger upside. United will hope the style of his football will take the fight to Manchester City and Liverpool, but there are no guarantees.
He has never worked at a level quite like United and while many will see him as the new kid on the block in coaching terms, he’s actually older than Pochettino and Guardiola. Ten Hag’s experience before 2017 amounted to spells at Go Ahead Eagles, Bayern Munich II and Utrecht and he wasn’t Ajax’s first choice five years ago.
The Dutch giants will be disappointed to lose him now, of course, but that doesn’t alter the fact that Arnold and Murtough are staking the house on someone that represents a risk.
Pochettino might have been the safer bet, but for some reason, he has gone out of fashion. He has had success in the Premier League with Southampton and Tottenham, building hugely exciting, modern teams.
His spell at Paris St-Germain has been disappointing, but he joined a club that simply didn’t have a squad that suited him. The manager he replaced in the French capital, Thomas Tuchel, won the Champions League a few months after being sacked, and two of the three bosses that were booted out of Paris before him are into this season’s Champions League semi-finals, in Unai Emery and Carlo Ancelotti.
So the moral of the story is that failing at PSG is almost irrelevant to a career trajectory. United have passed on Pochettino for a second time, but if the Argentine is available he won’t be short of offers this summer. It seems inevitable he will manage Real Madrid one day, perhaps even next season.
It has now seemed that Pochettino has been destined to manage United twice but Murtough and Arnold have looked elsewhere. There is a feeling that Ten Hag is risking his reputation by moving to Old Trafford, but that is now intertwined with the decision-makers above him.
Arnold and Murtough are relatively new to their Old Trafford roles and the football director has been given more power since Arnold replaced Ed Woodward two months ago, but their first big decision is essentially make or break for them.
Arnold hardly signaled a clean slate when he replaced Woodward. He was a university friend of the former executive vice-chairman and was promoted from within, so the jury was out from the moment he started on February 1.
Murtough has risen through the ranks at Old Trafford since joining under David Moyes. He’s been the great survivor but his work has undoubtedly been valued during his time at the club.
The glare will be brighter now he’s in the top job, however, and his endorsement of Rangnick as interim manager has not turned out well.
The process to recruit a new permanent manager has been led by Murtough and it already feels like this is how he will be judged. He needs Ten Hag to be a success for his own chances of a long and fruitful stay as United’s football director.
It might be that Ten Hag is the best candidate for the job this summer, but it also feels like Arnold and Murtough have walked into a casino and bet the house on the roulette table. This is a gamble that just has to pay off.
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