Ten Hag in The Times: Five things we learned
It's been a successful few weeks for Manchester United and manager Erik ten Hag, with Champions League qualification secured on the back of four consecutive Premier League victories.
There's still Saturday's Emirates FA Cup final against Manchester City to come, of course, but, whatever happens at Wembley, the boss can reflect on an encouraging maiden campaign at Old Trafford.
Ten Hag is not overly keen on sitting down to admire the work behind him and his team, but days after the 4-1 victory over Chelsea that sealed our top-four place, a rare in-depth interview with him was published in one of the UK's leading national newspapers, The Times.
Written by Henry Winter, the piece provided a fascinating insight into the Dutchman's United tenure, almost one year in. The manager discussed his own upbringing, how he kickstarted the squad's revival after those harrowing opening defeats to Brighton and Brentford and, most intriguingly, what is required for the team to make a further leap and begin challenging for football's biggest prizes again.
The full article is well worth your time – head to the newspaper's website to enjoy that – but here are five things that stood out to us, just to whet your appetite...
It's often been noted that Ten Hag comes from a successful family, with his parents building a profitable business during Erik's youth. But the boss was quick to point out that the hunger evident in his own career derived from his parents' aspirational attitude, not from opposition to what outsiders might assume was a comfortable upbringing.
“Both parents are coming from farmers, right?” he told Winter.
“My father set up his own company and he was two to three times almost bankrupt, so it was not always comfortable.
“But he survived, he fought, he was determined and he constructed a company with over 100 employees and was really successful, ultimately.”
A photo of Ten Hag enjoying dinner with Sir Alex Ferguson went viral earlier this year, and the 53-year-old admits in the interview that he is always keen to receive the Scot's counsel – rather than being intimidated by our former manager's aura and achievements.
“I talk to Sir Alex regularly. He gives his opinion and I’m happy to have that opinion. With all his experiences and his intelligence it’s really valuable to talk with him.
“From Sir Alex, I learn a lot because he’s such a legend. It gives me inspiration, how to manage.”
In contrast to Sir Alex, Ten Hag is a regular presence on the touchline throughout matches. But not for Erik the blizzard of histrionics shown by some managers. Instead, Ten Hag revealed that any mannerisms he displays are designed to produce an effect, rather that simply showcase his personal emotions. “I think that I’m always in control,” he began.
“One of my communication managers once told me, ‘Everyone in the stadium can be in the red zone, but never the manager.’ But I know as a manager, nowadays especially with VAR, you don’t have so much influence [on decisions].
“So focus on the game, focus on your players, instruct your coaches. When it looks like my emotions go up, I do it on purpose.”
The boss spoke about several United players' individual development during the piece, notably 30-goal hero Marcus Rashford, the improving Jadon Sancho and Golden Glove winner David De Gea.
Perhaps the most interesting case, however, is Aaron Wan-Bissaka, with Erik explaining how he and his coaches have helped the full-back progress after a difficult opening to 2022/23.
“We made an effort in going into his character, we got a relationship, and from there he got motivation, got his chance, he performed. From there on he got more belief.”
WEMBLEY IS ABOUT US
Inevitably, one of the big topics within the interview is this weekend's FA Cup final – the first major final contested by United and City in the history of Mancunian football. It's a derby of course – surrounded by all the usual cliches about 'bragging rights' – but the boss was keen to place his emphasis on what the Reds could achieve against Pep Guardiola's team, rather than focus on the game's context within the rivalry between the two clubs.
“I’ve seen many FA Cup finals. The tradition . . . I’m really looking forward to it. But it’s not about stopping Manchester City, it’s about us winning the FA Cup.
“We want to build our own legacy and era.”
The full interview with Erik is available to read now via The Times' website.