Dutch Reds give Ten Hag insight
“The fact he’s taken them to the semi-finals of a European Cup is a major achievement. I’m sure that’s why United looked at him and thought he’s the guy to take us forward,” says a member of Dutch Mancunians, a Manchester United Supporters' Club in the Netherlands.
He’s talking, of course, about the club’s next manager, Erik ten Hag, who will take over at Old Trafford at the end of this season.
Ten Hag, 52, has led Ajax to several league titles since he was appointed in December 2017, but it’s his achievements in the UEFA Champions League that set him apart, according to those in the Netherlands.
The Dutch Mancunians club was set up in 1995, and we spoke to two of its time-served members, Dennis van der Vin and Erik van den Polder, both of whom have supported United for decades, travelling around the world to watch the Reds play, from Rome to Mandalay.
“Probably 50 per cent of the managers who are manager of Ajax succeed because it’s the biggest club in terms of money, resources and youth development [in the Netherlands] but the fact he’s taken them to the semi-finals of a European Cup is a major achievement,” Erik explains.
“He’s done really well with Ajax, but the last couple of years at United have not been pleasant. To make United successful domestically first is a different job, so I’m very cautious.”
Ajax are the most successful club in the Netherlands, with a history world-famous. A talented side managed by future United boss Louis van Gaal and featuring to-be United legend Edwin van der Sar lifted the UEFA Champions League in 1995. But since, their European performances had not hit anywhere near the same heights.
When Ten Hag arrived as manager in Amsterdam, a good, but young team awaited him. Marcel Keizer had been sacked after failing to progress with the team that the previous manager, Peter Bosz, had taken – with an average age of 22 – to the UEFA Europa League final, where, in 2017, they were defeated by United in Stockholm.
With talent like Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, the pressure to succeed for Ten Hag – who left FC Utrecht to take the role – was significant, as Dennis explains.
“I think he had a lot of pressure at the beginning of his career at Ajax,” the Dutch Mancunians secretary says.
“A lot of people didn’t expect that he would succeed there, so I really think he did a great job.
“He did a great job at Ajax, but like Erik said, I think it’s a totally different job in the Premier League because there is more competition, better, stronger competition.”
In his first full season as Ajax manager, Ten Hag took Ajax’s young team to the Champions League semi-final. En route, they achieved a stunning 4-1 victory over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. It was a shock to the European football scene, and catapulted the names of all those who featured onto the back pages. Juventus were conquered, too, to secure a place in a first semi-final since 1997. There, Ajax were narrowly beaten by Tottenham Hotspur.
After, several key players left the club for pastures new, and Ten Hag set out about rebuilding the side to go again. They reached the Europa League quarter-finals in 2021 and then the Champions League round of 16 in 2022, defeated by Benfica.
“Indeed, yeah, he built two teams,” Dennis says.
“I think at United it depends on the amount of money he gets to buy some players and the way he, or Man United, can get rid of some players.”
An exciting summer clearly awaits. Interim manager Ralf Rangnick has been clear in stating that a rebuilding of the squad is required. Several players are set to leave as their contracts here expire, and with a new manager keen to establish his own style of play and dressing-room balance, a couple of key additions will be expected, too.