What would Erik ten Hag bring to Manchester United?

Ajax boss Erik ten Hag is close to being confirmed as the next permanent manager of Manchester United, after impressing Old Trafford officials ahead of former Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino.

So, what would the Dutchman bring to Old Trafford?

Tactics and match management

Ajax have tended to play a very fluid formation. It could be loosely defined as a 4-2-3-1, with two playmakers as holding midfielders. But it can easily shift into a 3-4-3 with one of the centre-backs stepping into midfield. Equally, if Ajax are on top, Ten Hag can even push them into a 4-1-4-1 with as many as six players ahead of the ball.

It is bold and slowly attacking. It is definitely fun to watch. The overall style is a nod to the Total Football concept of the famous Dutch teams of the Seventies and Ajax visionary Johan Cruyff.

It does mean his Ajax team can be exposed on the counter. Ten Hag’s devotion to the idea that attack is the best form of defense has been costly in the past. Benfica had only four shots on goal but still knocked Ajax out of the Champions League last month. Spurs came back from a three-goal deficit to win their Champions League semi-final back in 2019, mainly because Ten Hag’s side refused to shut up shop and kept on attacking.

In the Eredivisie, Ajax have the biggest budget and the best squad so he is able to play a relentlessly attacking style and win games. He will not have the same luxury at Manchester United where so much work needs to be done on the recruitment side.

In a recent interview with Telegraph Sport, Steve McClaren described Ten Hag as the best in-game tactical tweaker he had worked with since Sir Alex Ferguson, but there have been times when he has failed to see games out they should have won.

Training groundwork

Ten Hag works extremely long hours, both on the training pitch as well as analysis. He will pore over videos of opposition teams looking for weaknesses, but the onus is always on how he can get his team to hurt the opposition rather than contain them.

One of the features of that brilliant run to the semi-finals of the Champions League was that at no stage, even against highly fancied Bayern Munich, Juventus and Real Madrid, did Ajax alter the way they approached the game. There was no fear.

That is Ten Hag’s doing. He wants there to be freedom of expression, but that does not mean there is not a lot of hard work done in preparation. Training sessions are meticulously planned.

The Dutchman is very hands-on. One of the biggest plus points to appointing Ten Hag is he is such a good coach. He will improve the players he inherits at Manchester United and will not simply rely on buying better ones.

His track record of nurturing young talent will also appeal. He built one brilliant side at Ajax before the best players were sold and another very good one in his five years in charge. Tellingly, the likes of Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Hakim Ziyech and, of course, Donny van de Beek have not been as effective when separated from Ten Hag.

It would make sense for Ten Hag to bring in some Premier League expertise if he does get the job, which makes reports linking former United striker Robin van Persie with an assistant manager’s role intriguing. Pep Guardiola did the same when he arrived at Manchester City with Mikel Arteta part of his coaching staff.


Ajax’s recruitment is by committee and was not controlled by Ten Hag. He had a big say in the process but the Dutch club’s recruitment has been a success because there is so much expertise in its scouting network.

As well as having one of the best academies in the world, Ajax have a longstanding tradition of signing young players from across the globe, most notably in South America, improving and refining them before selling for a huge profit.

Ten Hag will have a vision of the qualities he is looking to fill positions, but Ajax are a well run club with a clear idea what it wants and how to go about it. Manchester United are not.


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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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