Erik ten Hag is Ajax’s quiet perfectionist primed to rescue the sinking ship at Manchester United


The man who could one day be king in Manchester seems to be the Invisible Man on this spring afternoon in the city he calls home.

Erik ten Hag has brought trophies and entertainment to Amsterdam, his dashing Ajax team winning a host of admirers for their charge to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019.

Such is the progress they have made, it is a surprise that the last eight will take place next week without their involvement after being eliminated by Benfica.

Erik ten Hag has brought trophies and entertainment to Amsterdam with a dashing Ajax side

The Dutchman is now being linked with rescuing a sinking ship at Manchester United

The Dutchman is now being linked with rescuing a sinking ship at Manchester United

There have been five trophies in four years under Ten Hag, with Ajax scoring 570 goals in 207 games. In many places across Europe, a manager who brought this level of success could expect to have his image proudly displayed around the stadium or on street corners.

Not here. Spend time walking around the imposing Johan Cruyff Arena and you will see countless pictures of the greatest Dutchman of them all, arms aloft in that iconic red and white shirt. You’ll see plenty of the current squad, too, from highly rated midfielder Ryan Gravenberch to Mexico defender Edson Alvarez.

But there is nothing of Ten Hag, not even in the club superstore. Perhaps it will be different in the fan shop on Kalverstraat, in the heart of the city? But again, there is nothing, so we enquire to find out if there is anything bearing his name.

‘You are the first person we have ever had ask about him,’ replies the assistant. ‘We want him to stay but the rumours are he goes to Manchester.’

There have been five trophies in four years under Ten Hag, with Ajax scoring 570 goals in 207 games

There have been five trophies in four years under Ten Hag, with Ajax scoring 570 goals in 207 games

They are more than rumours. Ten Hag is the man Ralf Rangnick has recommended should be given the task of re-floating the listing ocean liner that is Manchester United in 2022. The more you enquire about this unassuming 52-year-old, the more his qualities become clear.

Ten Hag was an honest central defender who in between three spells with Twente Enschede, played for De Graafschap, RKC Waalwijk and Utrecht but never represented Holland. He began his coaching career in 2012 when he was given the opportunity to join Go Ahead Eagles by Marc Overmars.

Though he only spent one season there, it was hugely successful. They won promotion to the Dutch top flight for the first time in 17 years. His impressive work caught the eye of Bayern Munich, who appointed him to coach their second team in the same summer that Pep Guardiola arrived.

He made an immediate impression in Bavaria. Speak to those who worked closely with him and one word that keeps popping up is ‘perfectionist’. Ten Hag is described as being kind and warm-hearted but in terms of football, he will not compromise.

Ralf Rangnick has recommended ten Hag as the man to re-float the listing ocean liner that is Manchester United in 2022

Ralf Rangnick has recommended ten Hag as the man to re-float the listing ocean liner that is Manchester United in 2022

Such is his determination for maintaining high standards, Ten Hag demanded everyone in his squad wear the same clothes on a match day, right down to their shoes and socks. His determination to find improvement was all-consuming, with no time limits placed on training sessions.

‘I was a central defender under Erik,’ Matthias Strohmaier, formerly of Bayern’s second team tells Sportsmail. ‘He is a very meticulous trainer and pays attention to every little detail, all the time. But he taught me things about football that I had never heard of before.

‘I definitely have good memories. You would stand with him every now and then for three hours on the training ground and do tactics work. As a player, you like to question that. But then there are moments in the game where you notice that the things you worked on came off.

‘That was unique. I improved as a player so much because I learned so much about football under him. No other trainer before or after has made me think about football in that way. I still exchange ideas with him from time to time and that also shows a strong personality.

He made an immediate impression when he joined Pep Guardiola (left) at Bayern Munich

He made an immediate impression when he joined Pep Guardiola (left) at Bayern Munich

‘Success hasn’t gone to his head. I don’t know how much he worked with Pep Guardiola but, for sure, they have an intense love for football and they would have spoken about it a lot because they see things the same way.’

After two years in Munich, Ten Hag was recruited by Utrecht. Jordy Zuidam, the sporting director, led the successful pursuit, seeing him as the man to deliver the ambitions of owner Frans van Seumeren, whose motto is emblazoned outside their stadium: ‘No guts, no glory.’

Utrecht were deeply taken with Ten Hag’s man-management, the ability to coax improvement from players who could be difficult in terms of attitude. He took Utrecht back into Europe within two seasons and there was recognition within the club that someone bigger would come in for him.

So it proved in December 2017 even if the move enraged Van Seumeren, an entrepreneur who is worth more than £350million. He hissed after Ten Hag’s departure that there ‘is no loyalty in football’ but the biggest club job in the Holland is impossible to turn down.

Former Forward Marc Overmars (right), once again, was key in recruiting Ten Hag for Ajax

Former Forward Marc Overmars (right), once again, was key in recruiting Ten Hag for Ajax

Overmars, once again, was key in recruiting Ten Hag for Ajax and some have questioned whether he has benefited from simply being able to concentrate solely on coaching and football matters rather than being involved in the recruitment process, too.

The long sessions that became a staple in Munich have also been introduced at the De Toekomst training complex in Amsterdam, a short walk from the stadium. Ten Hag is in early most days and goes for walks around the perimeter to gather his thoughts.

A friendly security guard explains that Ten Hag can be so lost in thought about football that he will unwittingly march past club employees who he knows before doubling back to apologise for ignoring them. It is a trait that anyone who has worked with Guardiola would recognise.

Despite his low profile in Amsterdam, the majority of fans do not want him to go to Manchester but they recognise the lure. Should he end up being Old Trafford’s latest chosen one, the life he has had in the shadows will immediately — and dramatically — change. He won’t be invisible any longer.

Now he is the man that United's under-fire owners the Glazers may turn to to revive their side

Now he is the man that United’s under-fire owners the Glazers may turn to to revive their side



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