Ten Hag's formidable to-do list at Man United as he starts job

Persuade Ronaldo to stay, finalise his backroom team, begin the pursuit of De Jong or Rice and run the rule over the Youth Cup winners! Erik ten Hag’s formidable to-do list at Man United as he starts work

  • Erik ten Hag has wasted no time in beginning to plan for the Man United job
  • Incoming coach started to focus on the task at hand after Ajax’s final match
  • Dutchman has plenty on his plate following an often calamitous United season
  • First priorities will be to finalise his own team and then decide on the players
  • Central midfield and centre-half are the main problem areas in the squad
  • Ten Hag will also be keen to assess the next generation of Old Trafford talent 

Erik ten Hag clearly isn’t one for sunbathing on the beach with a good book.

Manchester United’s new manager has decided to get straight down to business at Old Trafford just one day after taking charge of his final match for Ajax.

‘We have agreed that I will be employed by United from May 16… It’s time to turn the switch now,’ he said following Ajax’s 2-2 draw at Vitesse on Sunday.

After an intensive season, Ten Hag would have been perfectly entitled to take a few weeks to recharge the batteries.

Erik ten Hag has wasted no time in getting down to work as Manchester United’s new manager

The Dutch coach delivered another league title to Ajax before his departure to Old Trafford

But he is clearly eager to hit the ground running – having already held a United planning meeting in Amsterdam last week – and that’s probably just as well because there’s an awful lot to do.

United are at their lowest ebb in decades. They are miles behind their main rivals Manchester City and Liverpool, and still could end up playing in next season’s Europa Conference League.

A colossal rebuild is required of Ten Hag that will take the three years of his contract and probably much longer. His in-tray isn’t so much full but overflowing.

With that in mind, we take a look at the new manager’s formidable to-do list as he continues forward planning for his new job.

It’s been a season of misery for United, who can only finish at best sixth in the Premier League


This topic was high on the agenda at the planning meeting Ten Hag assembled in Amsterdam last Thursday, the day after Ajax secured the Eredivisie title.

United football director John Murtough was in attendance, as was Ten Hag’s long-standing assistant Mitchell van der Gaag, who is set to accompany him to Manchester.

Van der Gaag was coach of Jong Ajax for two years before being promoted to Ten Hag’s assistant manager at the beginning of last season.

He speaks five languages – Dutch, English, Spanish, Portuguese and French – which will be crucial in bridging the communication divide on the training ground given Ten Hag’s English is still coming along.

Mitchell van der Gaag is set to accompany Ten Hag to Manchester as his trusted assistant 

The assistant coach has extensive experience of bringing on youth team players, something as highly valued at United as at Ajax, and favours one-on-one meetings with all players, which will be essential in the coming weeks.

More intriguingly, Steve McClaren, the former England manager who was Sir Alex Ferguson’s No 2 between 1999 and 2001, was also at the meeting.

McClaren and Ten Hag worked together at Dutch club FC Twente during the 2008-09 season.

Steve McClaren could be set for a return to Old Trafford as part of Ten Hag’s coaching team

McClaren (right) knows United well having spent three years as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant 

Not only would McClaren bring a knowledge of the Old Trafford club but also extensive experience of the English game that Ten Hag and Van der Gaag won’t have.

A first priority in the coming days will be to finalise contracts for his backroom team and also decide which of the current personnel at United to retain.

Ralf Rangnick’s coaching team of Chris Armas and Ewan Sharp aren’t too likely to carry on given reports that the players have been thoroughly underwhelmed by their training sessions.


Then comes the thorny business of shaping the United squad for next season. Ten Hag is a meticulous man and he surely will already have some idea in his mind who he wants to keep hold of.

Some decisions have been made for him. Out-of-contract Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and Juan Mata are almost certainly leaving and Nemanja Matic is going too.

Plenty more could also leave. Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Dean Henderson, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Alex Telles, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have all been linked with moves away.

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of several players Ten Hag will need to sit down and chat to

Naturally, not all of those players will actually leave and reports over the weekend indicate that Ten Hag wants to make Rashford an integral part of the team’s revival.

Ultimately, Ten Hag can’t allow the squad to become too thin either. With United set to be playing in four competitions, they’ll need a certain amount of depth even if not all players are necessarily to the new manager’s taste.

One of his first priorities will have to be to speak individually to all of the squad before they head off on for international duty or their summer holidays.

And Cristiano Ronaldo will have to be top of the list. The 37-year-old has divided opinion at times since he returned to United but ultimately his 24 goals have prevented a poor season being a catastrophic one.

Paul Pogba is one player almost certain to be leaving Old Trafford as his contract expires

It was interesting to hear Ten Hag describe Ronaldo as a ‘giant’ during what was essentially his Ajax ‘exit interview’ in the Dutch press. He added: ‘I want to keep him at Manchester United, of course.’

Ten Hag also revealed in the same chat that some players had already sent him ‘welcome to the club’ messages.

He’ll have to make some pretty quick judgements on who he wishes to retain and who can start looking for a new club, taking an intuitive measure of their desire and suitability for his style of play.

But given the quantity of players we already know are leaving, it’s possible the bulk of the squad will still be in situ come the first day of pre-season, especially if the intended recruitment isn’t as smooth as hoped.

It’s been a tough season for Marcus Rashford but he should be part of Ten Hag’s United rebuild


The retained list sorted out, Ten Hag can then begin to focus on the signings he wishes to make in his first transfer window at United.

It’s believed this came up in conversation last Thursday so United’s deal-makers can set the wheels in motion and, despite missing out on the lucrative Champions League next season, he will be given cash to spend.

Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong is a possible midfield target for United this summer

United obviously have several problem areas, you only have to look at how mid-table Brighton tore them apart earlier this month to realise that, but central midfield must surely be top priority.

Frankly, it’s a festering issue that should have been sorted a year or two ago but with the departure of Pogba, Mata and Matic, the need to act is critically urgent.

United only have Scott McTominay and Fred as holding midfielders as it stands, plus Bruno Fernandes and the returning Donny van de Beek in more advanced positions.

It leaves them needing probably two midfield players this summer. They’ve been linked with Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong, a player Ten Hag knows well from their time together at Ajax, and West Ham’s Declan Rice, among others.

De Jong may prove a tricky one. Firstly, Barcelona are demanding a big fee for a player they spent £75million on in 2019. Secondly, he is reluctant to leave the Nou Camp and if he does, only for another Champions League club.

Rice is even more expensive and would probably blow the whole summer budget in one go. Signing both players looks pretty impossible.

Even bringing in one of them, plus a less expensive midfielder, would be a clear signal that Ten Hag means business as his tenure begins. Whatever happens, they desperately need new midfielders!

West Ham’s Declan Rice is another player linked with United as they try and bolster midfield


If bolstering the midfield is the No 1 priority, making improvements to United’s defence should be attached by paperclip in Ten Hag’s in-tray.

Humbling results against the likes of Brighton and Watford, let alone Liverpool and City, this season have exposed a brittleness at the back.

Captain Harry Maguire has struggled to find form all season, new arrival Raphael Varane seems to have been dragged backwards and the likes of Victor Lindelof, Bailly, Telles and Diogo Dalot can’t be entirely trusted.

United will certainly need a new centre back and quite possibly a new full back as well, particularly if players depart.

Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire haven’t formed an especially effective partnership

Young defender Jurrien Timber celebrates after Ajax clinched the Eredivisie title this week

But potentially this mission may be easier and less expensive than finding new midfielders.

Ten Hag may try and bring 20-year-old Jurrien Timber with him from Ajax. The youngster, named Ajax’s ‘Talent of the Year’ last week, is quick, assured with the ball at his feet and still only 20.

He could compensate for some of Maguire’s natural sluggishness and a back three of Maguire, Timber and Varane – assuming Ten Hag goes with his favoured system – could be very good.

Another centre-back option could be Pau Torres of Villarreal but the Spanish club would want over £50m and United could face stiff competitions.

Raiding his old club could be far easier for Ten Hag, likewise raiding an old rival, Feyenoord, for the highly-rated left-back Tyrell Malacia, also linked to United.

Villarreal defender Pau Torres is another player who has been often linked with Man United

Tyrell Malacia, the Feyenoord left-back, has emerged as a potential target this summer


Last week’s FA Youth Cup triumph represented a small glimmer of hope in what has otherwise been a gloomy season at United.

It suggests that, if nothing else, the pipeline of academy talent at Old Trafford remains as good as ever.

The win wouldn’t have escaped Ten Hag’s notice – he has previously coached Bayern Munich’s second team and brought through several exciting prospects at Ajax.

As ever, there’s no shortage of young players on United’s books and one early job should be to run the rule over them with one eye on the pre-season tour.

Manchester United’s under-18 side won the Youth Cup last week in a positive sign for the future

James Garner, 21, is a composed ball-playing midfielder who has enjoyed a brilliant season out on loan at Nottingham Forest in the Championship. Can he make the step up?

The Uruguayan winger Facundo Pellistri, 20, who has been at Alaves to gain experience, could be another with potential.

Alejandro Garnacho, 17, shone in the Youth Cup final, scoring twice, and was handed a first-team debut by Ralf Rangnick against Chelsea recently.

His track record suggests that Ten Hag will incorporate a handful of emerging talents in his squad and the example of Anthony Elanga, who has enjoyed a breakthrough year, bodes well for young player prospects.

Ultimately, everyone will have a clean slate with the new manager and must seize their opportunity to impress.

James Garner has performed well during a loan spell with Championship Nottingham Forest


It won’t be too long until the action begins. Having seen their horizons limited by Covid in the past two years, United are set to embark on a pre-season tour of the Far East and Australia that will see them travel over 20,000 miles.

They are set to play rivals Liverpool at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok on July 12 before heading to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for matches against Melbourne Victory on July 15 and Crystal Palace on July 19.

Then it’s off to Perth to play Aston Villa at the Optus Stadium on July 23.

Then-United manager David Moyes is the centre of attention in Bangkok back in 2013

If Ten Hag was under any illusions about the global popularity of United, he certainly won’t be after this hectic trip which will see him and the players mobbed wherever they go.

With his philosophy to impart onto the team, Ten Hag will want to maximise time on the training ground which won’t be easy with so much air travel and demands on their time from sponsors.

But at least there is no major international tournament this summer, allowing him a chance to get to work with his whole squad all at once from the start of July.

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