‘Ten Hag made us better against big opponents’

Tuesday 10 May 2022 15:00

Former Ajax defender Joel Veltman has explained how incoming Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag developed him and his former team-mates into players who could compete against the best sides in the world.

Veltman, now of Brighton & Hove Albion, made nearly 250 appearances for the Dutch club and played under Ten Hag for two-and-a-half years before his departure to the south coast of England.

The defender was therefore part of the Ajax side that made the famous run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018/19 under our incoming manager. 

Ajax memorably beat the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus on their way to the last four of the competition back then, and having been on that journey, Veltman explained how the 52-year-old helped the team to be able to go toe-to-toe with the top sides.
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“Yeah [he made us better players], especially against big opponents,” the Dutchman told MUTV exclusively, following our game against Brighton on Saturday.

“I think we showed that in the Champions League run that we had, three years ago.

“He knew where the weaknesses were in the big opponents. Sometimes, you don’t need to be the better team but if you are a team, you can have great results.”
Having gone through the youth ranks at the club and made his Ajax debut in 2012, Veltman was already a well-established member of the first-team group when Ten Hag arrived from Utrecht midway through the 2017/18 season. 

So, what did he bring to that squad and what can this current United team look forward to when he arrives in Manchester, in the summer?

“I would say that when he came in at Ajax, everybody was like, ‘yeah, what can we expect?’ He did a great job at Utrecht, where he came from before Ajax,” Veltman recalled.

“But Ajax like to play attractive football and he knew that, and [he just applied the] finishing touches that he was really focusing on, like the five seconds rule, that kind of thing.

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“[He told us to] keep the ball a lot and if we lost it, to directly pressure opponents when they were not organised. That kind of thing he was putting in our team.

“He expects a lot on the training pitch, because he was always saying, ‘if you don’t perform on the training pitch, you will never show on the gameday’.

“So, he was really putting pressure on us at training.”
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Having made the switch from the Eredivisie to the Premier League, the defender now believes that Ten Hag is ready to follow a similar path.

“It’s a great move to go to Manchester,” said the Brighton defender.

“Tactically, he is really one of the best [coaches] I’ve worked with so hopefully he can bring it into the [United] team next season.

“There will be no gaffer who, from week one, will do it perfectly. He needs to learn as well, so hopefully he will get the time. 

“United have amazing players, right? They showed it year after year. So, hopefully you can build like a nice team, a big team, who can work together and then they can do great stuff.”