Ten Hag's Premier League connections

Friday 22 April 2022 07:00

How Erik ten Hag has crossed paths and connected with English football – and Manchester United – in his career so far…

During his playing days, FC Twente defender Erik marked Ruud van Nistelrooy in the striker's final match for PSV Eindhoven before completing his delayed move to United. The occasion was a big one, the 2001 KNVB Cup final in the Netherlands and it went to penalties after a 0-0 draw. Van Nistelrooy did score in the shoot-out but Twente secured the trophy, with the Reds' new signing not appearing in PSV's final league match of the season shortly afterwards.

Ten Hag’s coaching career began at Dutch club FC Twente, after he’d hung up his boots as a player there in 2002. And it was at Twente where he forged a big Manchester United coaching connection. In 2008, Steve McClaren was appointed manager of the Eredivisie club. McClaren had, of course, been Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant manager at United between 1999 and 2001. And just as Sir Alex had had McClaren to turn to, exchange ideas with and to help coach the first team at Old Trafford, during his maiden season at Twente McClaren had Ten Hag as his assistant and second-in-command – and McClaren thought highly of his deputy. 

Announcing Erik ten Hag Video

Announcing Erik ten Hag

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During the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons, Erik was head coach of Bayern Munich II – the German giants’ reserve team, primarily a side where talented young players come through on their way to the senior team. And Bayern’s first-team manager at the same time? Pep Guardiola, someone who has, of course, gone on to great success in English football. Ten Hag has said that he learned a lot from and greatly admired Guardiola as a coach, while Pep has likewise been generous in his praise of his former coaching colleague.

When Ten Hag was named head coach of Ajax in December 2017, it was a former Manchester United player who authorised the appointment – giving Erik another strong Reds connection. Edwin van der Sar achieved legend status as United goalkeeper between 2005 and 2011, most famously, of course, in saving the penalty that decided the 2008 Champions League final in United’s favour.

Edwin – a former Ajax player too, where he’d won an earlier Champions League in 1995 – became marketing director at the Amsterdam club in 2012. He’d stepped up to become Ajax’s chief executive by the time of Ten Hag’s appointment, so it was ex-Red Edwin who gave Erik the ultimate endorsement to become Ajax boss.

Ten Hag’s domestic success in the Netherlands gave him the opportunity to test himself as a coach at Champions League level, and in doing so he’s gained plenty experience of facing teams from the Premier League… in pretty eventful fashion.

In an incredible first full season in charge of Ajax, 2018/19, while winning the Dutch league-and-cup double, Ten Hag also took his team on an electric run to the semi-finals of the Champions League, where they faced Tottenham Hotspur, managed by Mauricio Pochettino at the time. Ten Hag oversaw a 1-0 win in north London in the first leg and looked to be into the final – and chasing a Treble – at 2-0 up in the second leg, only for Lucas Moura to score a second-half hat-trick to sensationally win it for Spurs.

The following campaign, Ten Hag locked horns with Chelsea, coached by Frank Lampard, in the group stages. His Ajax team were beaten 1-0 in the Netherlands by the Blues, before Erik saw another first-hand example of the durability of Premier League opposition, with his team 4-1 up at Stamford Bridge only to be pegged back to 4-4.

In 2020/21, the English lessons continued, this time against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who earned narrow 1-0 victories both home and away against Ajax.

As Ajax boss, Erik ten Hag had plenty of official dealings with Manchester United, having both sold to and bought from the club. Donny van de Beek played under Ten Hag in the 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons before Erik allowed Donny to leave for United in 2020.

Daley Blind is another player Ten Hag negotiated an agreement with United over, that time with the reverse direction of travel in summer 2018, when Daley became one of his most important signings. Blind has gone on to become the player Ten Hag has selected more often than any other player, apart from Dusan Tadic, in his managerial career.

Aside from these direct deals with United, Ajax have done plenty of business with the Premier League during Ten Hag’s period as head coach. In that same summer of 2018 when Blind arrived from United, Ten Hag bought the aforementioned Tadic from Southampton – two key signings, now Ajax’s vice-captain and captain respectively, imported from the Premier League ahead of Erik's first full season in charge of Ajax.

Hakim Ziyech, Sebastien Haller and Joel Veltman are among other examples of players moving directly to or from Premier League teams, indicating a strong knowledge of and engagement with English football, its clubs and its players.

Earlier in his coaching career, while in charge of Bayern Munich II, Erik had Tottenham’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in his squad. The Denmark international was excellent in midfield and gained promotion to the Bavarians' senior squad.