Inside Erik ten Hag's no-nonsense revolution at Manchester United
Inside Erik ten Hag’s no-nonsense revolution at Manchester United: Dutchman is a clear thinker and a straight talker with a laser-like vision of what he wants… and he’s NOT going to be satisfied with just the Carabao Cup
- Erik ten Hag, 53, wasted little time in making his mark after joining Man United
- The Dutchman has inspired his players with a laser-like vision for the club
- He’ll be hungry for more success despite quickly scooping the League Cup
Standing in the Rajamangala National Stadium in Thailand last July, Erik ten Hag was under no illusions about the trophy in his hands or the job on his plate.
Not surprisingly, Ten Hag was not getting carried away after being presented with the Bangkok Century Cup after beating an undercooked Liverpool 4-0.
The Dutchman knew the scale of the task in front of him, having become the sixth coach since Sir Alex Ferguson to accept the challenge of reviving the slumbering giant of English football.
The Cristiano Ronaldo saga was in full swing and heading for its messy conclusion. United were still in talks with Ten Hag’s old club, Ajax, over signing Lisandro Martinez and Antony. Casemiro had not even entered the equation.
We were on the first stop of United’s pre-season tour, and it felt like the beginning of the journey in every sense for Ten Hag.
Man United boss Erik ten Hag has been leading a no-nonsense revolution at Old Trafford
He has brought discipline with a laser-like vision of what he expects from all of his players
Seven months on, his celebrations on the pitch at Wembley had a very different feel in the wake of United’s win over Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday.
The usually reserved Dutchman launched into a victory jig with Martinez and Antony, two players so accustomed to winning with him in Holland that they know the dance moves off by heart. They had long since learned the lesson that their new team-mates have now taken on board: trust in Ten Hag and success will follow.
But even they could not have imagined he would turn the ship around so quickly. A first major trophy in the bag by February and challenging for three more.
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola did rather well after first tasting success in English football in this competition, and there is nothing to suggest that it will not be the same for Ten Hag.
A product of the agricultural heartlands of eastern Holland, he does not have Mourinho’s ego or Guardiola’s complexities. Ten Hag is a clear thinker and a straight talker with a laser-like vision of what he wants. This has been a no-nonsense revolution.
When former United striker Robin van Persie interviewed him before the win over Barcelona last week, the manager politely interrupted a eulogising question about their progress by raising his hands. ‘Robin, enough compliments,’ said Ten Hag. ‘From compliments you don’t collect trophies, and that’s why we are here.’
Even Lisandro Martinez (L) and Antony (R) – who worked with Ten Hag at Ajax – could not have expected the Dutchman to bring success this quickly after their Carabao Cup win
A similar message has emerged since Sunday’s game, both in Ten Hag’s press conference and in an open letter he wrote to United supporters on Monday. No room for complacency. No back-slapping. United move on to the next game against West Ham in the FA Cup on Wednesday night.
‘This has to be the inspiration to continue on this pathway and improve — don’t be happy,’ said Ten Hag. ‘OK, be happy for 24 hours but don’t be satisfied because satisfaction leads to laziness and when you get lazy you don’t win any more games and you can’t win trophies.’
That was the Ferguson way: always looking ahead to the next one. The 81-year-old Scot had dinner with Ten Hag last week and was there to embrace him in the Wembley dressing room. Fergie, of all people, will recognise and admire the traits he sees.
Discipline underpinned everything with Ferguson too, though it took him longer to stamp out a drinking culture and deliver his first trophy. In Ten Hag’s case, it was a squad gone rotten and a club turned soft. Radical changes and new laws were needed.
Much has been made of the strict rules regarding issues such as time-keeping and dress code that landed the likes of Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho in trouble, or the punishment run imposed on the players after the 4-0 defeat by Brentford at the start of the season that threatened to blow Ten Hag off course.
Ten Hag is a straight talker who thinks clearly and does not let the squad rest on their laurels
Even as the Cup was paraded on Sunday, Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes had a terse exchange after the latter went for goal instead of passing to his team-mate late on. Do the right thing, even when the game is already won.
Ten Hag knew what United needed long before he got the job. He impressed executives at the interview stage with his level of detail and a clear view of how he wanted to put things right.
For instance, there was some reluctance inside Old Trafford about bringing Steve McClaren back, but Ten Hag was adamant he needed someone with knowledge of the English game by his side, and McClaren was that man.
Ferguson’s former No 2 was present at the earliest meetings and has become an integral part of the backroom staff that Ten Hag gathered together for a picture at Wembley, insisting they share the credit for the success.
The significance of McClaren’s role in the Treble season of 1999 will also have been a consideration for Ten Hag, a man who has immersed himself in the history of the club and what makes it tick.
‘I just love United,’ Ten Hag said on Sunday. ‘When I see Old Trafford and the legacy of Sir Alex, so many big players were developed here and we want to do the same. This team wants to make its own history and when this opportunity came, I thought it was the right club for me.’
He knew radical changes were needed to overhaul the team’s fortunes – and strict time keeping rules – that Marcus Rashford fell foul of – have kept the group focused
He’s delivered one piece of silverware, but Ten Hag will be far from satisfied with just that
Ten Hag identified the need for more leaders in his squad, recognising that character is just as important as ability at a club like United. To that end, Casemiro and Martinez have been colossal.
Crucially, Ten Hag has improved the players he inherited. Rashford is the standout example. Fred and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are others, but there has been improvement across the board.
He also deserves credit for how he has approached some of the tricky issues. Firm guidance for Garnacho, sympathy for Jadon Sancho and diplomacy in the case of Harry Maguire, having benched his captain for much of the season.
Then, of course, there is Ronaldo. It was a challenge that would have tested any coach in world football, but Ten Hag emerged from it all with his dignity intact and even greater authority.
Gary Neville said on Sky Sports on Sunday: ‘It’s about one man having transformed this team from whiners into winners in such a short period of time. That squad will be dangerous with a medal around their necks. Ten Hag has taken control of United.’
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