Erik ten Hag has given Manchester United a simple decision to make – Tyrone Marshall

Erik ten Hag did his best to profess his loyalty to Ajax while leaving the door more than a little ajar for a potential exit this summer.

The 52-year-old has already been interviewed by Manchester United and is leading the race to be installed as the club’s next manager this summer.

The increased speculation around the Old Trafford vacancy comes at a tricky time for Ten Hag. While United had always earmarked this 18-day break between fixtures as an opportunity moment to accelerate their search for a permanent manager this summer, the Dutchman is trying to maintain focus on Ajax’s thrilling Eredivisie title race with PSV Eindhoven.

READ MORE: Ten Hag breaks his silence on future after United interview

But in his first major interview since he held discussions with United, Ten Hag did enough to lay the groundwork for a potential departure from Amsterdam this summer, getting his employers and the club’s supporters used to the idea that after five years their association might be about to come to an end.

“My focus is currently only on Ajax. But in football you never know,” Ten Hag told SPORT1.

“I don’t want to rule anything out. I’m currently employed here at Ajax to perform, with the cup final against Eindhoven, we still have eight finals left, and I need all my energy for that. Anything else would just be to distraction.

“I know that in football everything can change from one day to the next. If at some point I should decide to take the next step, I hope that people here will understand.

“Everyone knows each other in the industry. There are always talks with representatives from other clubs, that’s normal.

“Manchester United is a great club with great fans. But I can only repeat myself: My full focus is completely on Ajax! We are already planning for the new season.”

This was far from a pitch solely to United. Speaking to the German publication Ten Hag also declared that the “Bundesliga is a fantastic league, I hope to work there in the future.”

He spent two years between 2013 and 2015 coaching Bayern Munich’s B team and looks a natural fit for the Bundesliga, but it’s United that heads the queue this summer.

They identified Ten Hag as their preferred candidate before the interview process began and while opinions can always change once talks progress, it has started to feel like it is his job to lose.

Ajax have a two-point lead over PSV Eindhoven in the title race and winning the league once again has become more important to the club and Ten Hag after their hugely surprising Champions League exit to Benfica, although it seems clear that what happens between now and the end of the season isn’t going to define his chances of landing the United job.

After a successful spell in Amsterdam it also seems like Ten Hag is ready for a new challenge, opting to leave when his stock remains high. Managing Manchester United is clearly a step up and it’s not normally the kind of job that comes around twice in a career.

Now it’s up to United to decide if Ten Hag is their man. None of the candidates are without faults, or reason for concern, this summer, so it’s not an easy decision to make, but appointing Ten Hag should at least be straightforward.

Mauricio Pochettino still has his supporters at United, but his spell at Paris St-Germain has not been particularly successful and he was damaged by their dramatic Champions League exit to Real Madrid last month.

Julen Lopetegui always felt like an outsider for the role and he still is, although there shouldn’t be too much read into the idea that he ruled himself out in midweek.

Another manager with admirers at Old Trafford is Luis Enrique, but he won’t leave his job with Spain until after the World Cup this winter.

All of that is starting to leave the path clear for Ten Hag and he has made his own feelings clear. Now it all needs is United to make their decision.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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