Leading candidate Erik ten Hag has broken his silence on his links to the Manchester United job, praising the club’s ‘great fanbase’ and imploring the Ajax faithful to be understanding should he make the move.
The Ajax boss has been heavily linked with the United job in recent weeks, with reports circulating on Friday stating the Dutchman is now the outright favourite to become the club’s long-term successor to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Ten Hag was interviewed by the Manchester club last month, having been granted permission by Ajax to do so, and – ahead of a second and final round of talks – he has now directly addressed the growing speculation.
Ajax boss Erik ten Hag has finally broken his silence on his talks with Manchester United
Sportsmail revealed Ajax boss ten Hag had an interview with United on Monday, although he is not the first candidate to hold formal discussions with new chief executive Richard Arnold
He told Sport1: ‘My focus is currently only on Ajax. But in football you never know. I don’t want to rule anything out. I’m currently employed here at Ajax to perform.
‘With the cup final against [PSV] Eindhoven, we still have eight finals left, and I need all my energy for that. Anything else would just be a distraction.
‘I know that in football everything can change from one day to the next. If at some point I should decide to take the next step, I hope that people here will understand.’
Ten Hag’s Ajax side are sat just two points ahead of PSV in an enthralling title rice with just seven games remaining. The prolific Dutch side also have to navigate a KNVB Cup final against PSV on April 17.
Ten Hag insists his focus will remain on the job at hand until the end of the season. But with just over 13 months remaining on his contract, he will then discuss his imminent future with the club.
‘I’ve sat down with Ajax after every season so far,’ he said. ‘That will also be the case this time. I can say that Ajax and Erik ten Hag are very happy with each other at the moment.’
Ten Hag has led Ajax to two Eredivisie and KNVB Cup doubles during his time with the club
The Dutchman’s full focus remains on Ajax with plans for next season already underway
Asked directly about the negotiations with United, the 52-year-old, while admitting to his fondness of the club and its fans, revealed he’s already planning for the 2022-23 campaign.
‘Everyone knows each other in the industry,’ he said. ‘There are always talks with representatives from other clubs, that’s normal. Manchester United is a great club with great fans.
‘But I can only repeat myself: My full focus is completely on Ajax! We are already planning for the new season.’
From a United standpoint, Sportsmail understands they would need to fork out around £4million to Ajax to secure the services of the Dutchman – a fee they would be willing to pay.
Meanwhile, Sky Sports reported earlier this week that since interviewing Ten Hag, Old Trafford chiefs have been conducting ‘due diligence’ on the Ajax boss.
Interim boss Ralf Rangnick – who was brought in after Solskjaer was sacked – is expected to shift into a consultancy role at the end of the season.
Should the Dutchman eventually complete his switch to United, he will be rivalling a former co-worker in Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, who drafted him in during his time at Bayern Munich to act as the reserve team manager.
Ten Hag could soon find himself competing against former co-worker Pep Guardiola
The Dutchman’s time at Bayern shaped his football philosophy and his keen focus on youth
The similarities between the two are immediately evident, with the pair sharing a love for attacking, possession-based football and both also partial to a 4-3-3 formation.
And speaking of Guardiola’s influence on his own style of coaching, he said: ‘I like how Guardiola brings his style to the team.
‘His teams are always offensively aligned – with adventure and freedom for the players. He doesn’t just focus on winning, he wants to play attractive football.’
‘He was always very transparent, you were warmly welcomed at every training session,’ he continued. ‘You could always discuss his idea of football with him and learn from him. That was very valuable to me.’
He added: ‘I want to win every game if possible. But it also has to be done in a way that is attractive to the fans, because in professional football you play for the fans. That’s why I always set up my team offensively.’
While Ten Hag appears to have moved to the front of the queue, PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino has also been heavily linked with the role, while Spain’s Luis Enrique, Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel and Sevilla’s Julen Lopetegui have also been named as possible options.
PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino is also a leading contender, despite a poor spell in France