Erik ten Hag’s to-do list will likely be so long as his arm when he eventually arrives at Manchester United this summer. The Dutch boss remains to be focused on securing the Eredivisie title with Ajax, so he could be forgiven for relegating United to a secondary concern for now. But he must be under no illusions just how difficult a task he has signed up for at Old Trafford.
Ten Hag just isn’t the primary United manager to reach with the media declaring the necessity for a whole overhaul, revival or rebuild; all of his predecessors since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in May 2013 have had similar preludes.
Yet this time it really does feel different – and never just due to dire run of recent results. United have been mediocre, or worse, for several years – five successive seasons without silverware tells you that much – but there are more aspects at work this summer.
Ten Hag’s predecessor has only been in the new seat for six months and has overseen a transitional period defined by inertia. The United hierarchy has been reshuffled too, with Ed Woodward leaving in February to get replaced by Richard Arnold as chief executive, while football director John Murtough has seen his influence grow.
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Finally, the playing squad is about to undergo a period of change. Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Edinson Cavani, Juan Mata and Lee Grant are all primed to depart on free transfers; Nemanja Matic has announced his intention to depart and doubts are swirling around Cristiano Ronaldo, Alex Telles, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Marcus Rashford, Dean Henderson and Anthony Martial.
That is the context of Ten Hag’s takeover as manager. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have all failed before him. Their spells in charge have all left behind traces of their failure, which the 52-year-old, who’s taking over his first major job outside of his home country, must sweep away.
Just one in all those lingering elements which is holding the club back is something Moyes is deemed to be chargeable for. Rio Ferdinand was there for the great times at Old Trafford under Ferguson and stayed for the bad ones under his successor. He believes the team’s tendency to think negatively – to deal with the opposition’s strengths, relatively than their very own – began with Moyes.
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“Even the mindset in one in all the training sessions, I hope I’m not speaking out of line here towards David Moyes but our mindset [under Ferguson], we never anxious in regards to the opposition,” Ferdinand on BT Sport in 2018. “We never set ourselves up and said, ‘oh we’d like to be certain that we contain this and contain that’. We’ll attempt to win this game based on what we’re good at.”
He added: “I remember the primary couple of games, we played against Liverpool and Chelsea, and we were talking more about [Eden] Hazard and [Philippe] Coutinho than we were about our own attacking tactics. So there’s doubt. Players then have a look at one another. “This ain’t us. We’re not used to this’.”
United spokespeople often speak in regards to the “United way”. They imagine within the self-mythologising status of the club, that just wearing the famous red shirt should intimidate opponents. If that ever existed, then it’s now long gone. Ten Hag could be sensible to attempt to restore it. It can take a while – Ferdinand said in February he thinks the club has to “write off the following yr or two by way of trophies” – but it can be worthwhile.
The summer will likely be absolutely crucial in shaping any success Ten Hag has. Recruitment is essential, while shifting the dead wood – of which there’s quite a bit – is equally essential. Once that task is accomplished, Ten Hag must begin to instil his players with the arrogance of United players from past eras. The age of negativity must be drawn to an in depth.