Ajax expect Erik ten Hag to become Manchester United’s next manager. Ten Hag would be an exciting appointment, but it has been suggested that Steve McClaren could become the Dutchman’s assistant and that it would certainly be a colossus mistake.
McClaren is no stranger to Ten Hag. The pair worked together at FC Twente in McClaren’s first year in the Netherlands. McClaren had arrived in Holland without any of his own coaching staff and Ten Hag remained at the club after working as an assistant under the previous manager. They immediately built a relationship and Ten Hag impressed McClaren with his meticulous planning.
“His great strength lies not just in his attention to detail and organization,” McClaren told The Telegraph when asked about Ten Hag. “He has a clear philosophy of how he wants to play football; the environment he wants to create.
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“The player progression program was a key part of Twente. He has done that at Ajax too, for each player from the academy to the first team.”
McClaren is understood to credit Ten Hag with laying the foundations for his success at Twente. The pair parted ways after the former England boss’ first season and Twente became Eredivisie champions the following campaign. It was redemption for McClaren, just under three years after being sacked by England. The ‘wally with the brolly’ had hit back at the doubters.
That unlikely triumph in the Eredivisie — Twente had never won the league title before — came 11 years after United had won the historic treble in 1999. McClaren was Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant during that season and he quickly built a reputation as one of the nation’s most forward-thinking and tactically astute coaches. United’s players enjoyed their training sessions at Carrington.
McClaren has been on quite the journey since leaving Old Trafford. He’s managed Middlesbrough, Twente (twice), Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest, Derby (twice), Newcastle and Queens Park Rangers. He was sacked from a staggering six of seven of those clubs and he tendered his resignation during his second stint in the Netherlands. That’s without mentioning his disastrous Three Lions tenure of him.
England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 under McClaren’s watch and his swift dismissal after 18 months meant his time in charge of the national team was the shortest tenure of any England manager. England’s 3-2 defeat against Croatia was McClaren’s nadir.
The rain at Wembley as England lost to Croatia came down harder than usual that night. The conditions reflected the direction of McClaren’s career for him. It had started with such promise but his expansion of it into management had failed. McClaren has always been known as a better coach than a manager and that’s perhaps why Ten Hag would be tempted to bring him back to United, if appointed this summer.
Ten Hag could look to rely on McClaren’s experience of working at United and he might appreciate his knowledge of the Premier League, but appointing him as his assistant would be inadvisable. Ten Hag would start his United career with a mistake if he did.
It has been a miserable season for United and it cannot end quickly enough. Ten Hag’s appointment looks increasingly likely and his arrival from him will bring some much-needed hope and positivity. Yet McClaren’s return would undo some of that good feeling.
United are a club in transition and Ten Hag looks set to have the opportunity to rebuild the club in his vision. United need fresh faces and innovative ideas, they don’t need old coaches back at the club. It hasn’t worked over the past decade, so why would it suddenly work now? Ten Hag needs to bring outsiders to the club. United need a radical transformation and a culture reset.
The club has wrestled with its identity since 2013: What does it actually mean to be Manchester United nowadays? United have perhaps hung onto the achievements of the past for too long and it’s time for a new era. It’s imperative that starts with the next manager.
United need to move away from the past to create a brighter future and McClaren returning to the club would prevent that.
Ten Hag can’t afford to start his premiership at Old Trafford with a colossus mistake.