IAN HERBERT: Erik ten Hag would be goofy to reject 'Disneyland' United

IAN HERBERT: Erik ten Hag would be goofy to reject ‘Disneyland’ United… the club’s a mess following 17 neglectful years under Glazer ownership but that would make success for Dutch coach even sweeter

  • Louis Van Gaal was not the only one dismayed by commercial deal obssession
  • He is not wrong to suggest Man United job is, in some ways, a poisoned chalice
  • There are reasons to ponder whether Erik Ten Hag is the right man for this job
  • But the United manager who begins to restore club will be cherished by millions

There is a ring of familiarity about Louis van Gaal suggesting his compatriot Erik ten Hag should dismiss all thoughts of managing Manchester United and ‘choose a football club, not a commercial one.’

Jurgen Klopp felt the club’s priorities made it ‘an adult version of Disneyland’ when approached to replace David Moyes in 2014.

Van Gaal was not the only one dismayed by Old Trafford obsession with commercial deals. His players were so affronted by being asked to do a sponsors’ event after one match they withdrew cooperation, forcing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to seek a truce with dressing-room leader Ashley Young.

Louis van Gaal was not the only one dismayed by Man United’s obsession with commercial deals

Van Gaal is not wrong to suggest that the United job is, in some ways, a poisoned chalice

A watch sponsor gave Zlatan Ibrahimovic one of their products at another event, then asked him to sign for it, saying if he left the club he must give it back. The Swede told them where they could stick it. 

Woodward has been replaced by Richard Arnold and a greater common sense is restored, though Van Gaal is not wrong to suggest that the United job is, in some ways, a poisoned chalice.

The new incumbent will inherit a labyrinthine squad which is the product of five managers taking up the Old Trafford hot-seat in nine years. When Juan Mata came on as a substitute in the FA Cup defeat by Middlesbrough last month, the 11 players on the pitch had been signed by all five of those bosses.

The next manager will inherit the legacy of 17 neglectful years under Glazer ownership: an aged, careworn stadium in desperate need of upgrade at a time when Arsenal’s and Tottenham’s arenas place them miles ahead.

The new incumbent – which could be Erik ten Hag – will inherit a labyrinthine squad

The technically challenging expansion of Anfield is something Liverpool’s American owners have applied themselves to and the stadium is hugely enhanced.

And then there is the expectation that the club’s sixth manager since Ferguson left will restore the club to the promised land reached by the Scot, who was the sixth permanent custodian of the post after Sir Matt Busby’s 1969 retirement.

Ferguson certainly had his work cut out from 1986, though he did not arrive to find a strong Manchester City, recently anointed as the biggest money-making operation in world football by Deloitte and part of a duopoly, with Liverpool, which has supreme dominance over the English game.

Paul Scholes admits it may be five years before United approach the high ground, though that won’t put paid to the Greek chorus of former United players — including Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand — providing a weekly commentary on progress.

The next manager will inherit the legacy of 17 neglectful years under Glazer ownership

And then there is Ferguson himself, and his legend. Always there and always watchful. A shadow on the wall. As Brendan Rodgers put it when he arrived at Liverpool 10 years ago this summer, this red shirt ‘weighs much heavier than any other shirt’. That is how it feels at United now.

All of the above are reasons to ponder whether Ten Hag really is the right man for this job.

Culturally, he is certainly a good fit for Manchester, hailing from the county of Twente, the former heart of the Dutch textile industry, in the far east of Holland.

The Dutch word for those from that place is Tukker. They are known to be pragmatic, level-headed, slightly dour with a love for hard work and deadpan wit. The Lancashire of Holland, you might say.

But this job seems to demand more than a workmanlike approach to the task in hand.

Culturally, ten Hag is certainly a good fit for Manchester, hailing from the county of Twente

It requires personality and presence, with big names and big egos destined to be part of the inheritance even if Cristiano Ronaldo does leave, as is increasingly likely.

At Ajax, Ten Hag has moulded a young team who hang on his every word and instruction and, like Van Gaal, he seems better suited to a young, inexperienced squad with potential than this random, superstar assembly.

His modest grasp of English is not ideal. In some ways, he resembles the unassuming Frank de Boer, for whom things did not end well after he left Ajax for Inter Milan and Crystal Palace. There would certainly be fewer soundbites than with Van Gaal, who arrived with his Amsterdammer’s self-confidence and ego.

The challenges may be monumental and complicated and the task the toughest in world football, yet Van Gaal — embittered by his own experiences and classless sacking by United in 2016 — is wrong to suggest Ten Hag should reject the job.

That’s because the United manager who begins to restore a club of such wealth, support and legend will be cherished the world over by millions and be central to one of the great footballing narratives. The reasons to take it all on are indisputable.




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