A LEAP of faith. A shot in the dark. A major dose of Dutch courage administered to a club hung-over from humiliation.
A manager with no experience of operating in the big five leagues taking over a shattered ruin — a giant brought to its knees.
Man Utd have finally got their man in Erik ten HagCredit: https://www.instagram.com/manchesterunited/
The union of Erik ten Hag and Manchester United does not feel like a marriage made in heaven.
This season, United’s record against Manchester City and Liverpool — bitter traditional foes, who can barely even be described as rivals any more — reads played four, lost four, scored one, conceded 15.
And anyone who witnessed those four mismatches will know that aggregate scoreline seriously flatters United. They weren’t derbies, they were bloodbaths.
Tuesday’s 4-0 mauling at Anfield was as one-sided as it was predictable.
So, politically, the timing of this announcement, prior to his summer arrival from Ajax, is ideal for Ten Hag.
United’s fortunes — and their expectations — at a four-decade low. Nobody will ever be able to accuse him of squandering a glorious inheritance.
But can Ten Hag’s successes at Ajax, world- renowned as a well-oiled talent factory, be taken as proof that he can bring order to a club infamous for its dysfunctionality?
United might easily have gone for the tried-and-tested.
Ten Hag has won it all in Holland with Ajax – but United is a whole different levelCredit: Reuters
They could have appointed Antonio Conte back in the autumn, when it was clear Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sepia-tinted reign would be consigned to the recycling bin.
Instead they made the weird decision to appoint the scholarly Ralf Rangnick on an interim basis and ended up without a trophy for a fifth straight season.
They could also have gone for Mauricio Pochettino at most points within the last six years.
The Argentinian, who transformed Tottenham, has a track-record and a skill-set which should have singled him out as the perfect candidate.
Poch, who turned 50 last month, is two years younger than Ten Hag, yet has eight years of elite-level management experience.
And Ten Hag’s greatest triumph, Ajax’s 2019 Champions League run, was halted by a remarkable semi-final comeback from Pochettino’s Spurs.
Pochettino or Conte, though, would have demanded greater power in decision-making than Ten Hag.
And they would also have tossed Molotovs into an unruly, often anarchic, United dressing-room, with its culture of rampant egos, empty social-media apologies and cowardly buck-passing.
Conte’s appointment at Spurs, for all the Italian’s turbulence, felt like a potential game-changer.
Ten Hag at United feels like a punt.
We are told that when Ten Hag met United chiefs John Murtough and Darren Fletcher last month, it was not so much an interview as a b******ing administered by the Dutchman to his prospective employers — a warts-and-all takedown of a shambolic club.
That should be encouraging for United supporters.
It suggests there is an air of reality on both sides.
It suggests Ten Hag is not merely grateful to get the gig.
It suggests that while he has ignored the advice of his compatriot, Louis van Gaal, to choose a ‘football club not a commercial club’, he understands the magnitude of his task.
DRESSING ROOM DIVIDE
And it suggests there are some in the United hierarchy willing to accept harsh truths — and appoint that man who delivered them.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson departed nine long years ago, United have descended from ruthless winning machine to comedic farce. From The Godfather to the Muppet Show.
Ten Hag will become United’s fifth permanent boss since Ferguson and will be less prepared to deal with the harshness of the spotlight than David Moyes, Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho or Solskjaer.
So can Ten Hag deal with the intense scrutiny of United? With the Cristiano Ronaldo circus? With the vast anti-Glazer sentiment among supporters? With the rag-tag of leftovers from a £1billion transfer splurge since Ferguson departed?
‘SIX YEARS BEHIND LIVERPOOL’
He may well have Steve McClaren, Fergie’s former No 2, in his backroom staff and the ex-England boss represents a link to United’s past glories.
He can also assist Ten Hag, should he need any English translated into English with a comedy Dutch accent.
United sources suggest they were attracted to Ten Hag because of his commitment to promoting, and improving, young players.
Yet United’s two most high profile recent Academy graduates — Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford — are, respectively, experiencing personal and professional crises.
There are many more with great potential in United’s youth ranks, but then we are talking about a long-term overhaul. And extreme levels of patience.
Rangnick may not have pulled up any trees.
But he has certainly been honest and outspoken with his views on United’s predicament — that they are six years behind Liverpool (and therefore City) and that they may need to sign ten new players.
United are at rock-bottom. A club with their immense levels of income and investment cannot feasibly descend much further.
And at least the appointment of Ten Hag suggests that they have taken the first steps to recovery — by recognising just how far they have fallen.
Will Cristiano Ronaldo fit into Erik ten Hag’s immediate plans?Credit: Getty
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