Transcript: Part one of Ten Hag's interview
New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag cannot wait to start working with our squad and implementing his long-term plan to achieve success by playing attacking, adventurous football.
Ten Hag has a vision for the club and has already got to work, putting wheels in motion for his pre-season campaign and plans for the 2022/23 season.
During a break from those meticulous preparations, club reporter Pien Meulensteen sat down with Erik to conduct a feature-length interview that digs deeper into his ambitions, mindset and philosophy.
As you can read and watch below, the Dutchman is brimming with excitement for the future and speaks enthusiastically about a brave new era at Old Trafford.
Erik, welcome to Manchester United. How do you feel about starting this new chapter in your career?
“I would say the word 'exciting'. I really look forward to doing this job, at this club with massive history, and we want to restore it where it belongs.”
What excites you most about this opportunity of managing this club?
“I think many [reasons]. First of all, we want to make the fans proud. Second, of course we are in this moment, the current situation is obviously not that good. It’s a big challenge. I want to build and construct a team who are battling for each other, who are unified and who will get results. Also we are playing in the Theatre of Dreams. We want to entertain. But in the end, the intention is to play fantastic football. If we can’t play fantastic football, we still have to win.”
It was only last week your last game at Ajax, and you’re already here in England. What made you want to come so quickly? You didn’t take a break, you literally came straight after finishing with Ajax…
“Before a season, you have to prepare and when you are in a club, I will say it’s a continual process. You’re working on next season and still you are in the current season. But we didn’t have that time now, and now we close the season and I’m coming over to meet people and to roll out the strategy, to prepare pre-season, prepare staff and prepare a squad.”
Part 1: Ten Hag’s first interview as boss
Ten Hag exclusive | Watch the first half of our big interview with Erik, discussing his exciting arrival at United…
“It’s first: accept the current situation but also know one year ago, this club, this team was second in the Premier League. There’s potential and now it’s up to us to get that out. It’s a process, it will take time but I’m convinced we will come to that point where we get success. We have to work hard and it has to be based on the right philosophy and strategy.”
In terms of the short term, then, what are you seeing happening in the next few weeks?
“First, we have a break. We will start pre-season on 27 June and I will get a few of the squad, [a few] of the individual players. In certain positions we want to renew the squad, but as I said, one year ago, this squad was second in the league, so there is potential and I’m really looking forward to co-operating with the squad.”
Well speaking of the players then, how much are you looking forward to getting to know them and working with them closely as well?
“That is really exciting. Also for me, of course, it’s new. I was at Ajax for a long time: four-and-a-half years. We had a great time, but now it’s a new start also for me and we have to build it up from the bottom, on zero. I have to build, starting a new relationship with the squad, with my players.”
How important is it, then, for the players to make sure they impress you over the summer and to get the best out of the squad that you’ve got?
“That is what I expect. I have high expectations from myself and that is also what I demand from my squad. They have to co-operate together and they have to give every day their best. And I would say, for me, good is not good enough. We have to do better.”
“Yeah, we had some conversations about it. Actually, he was the first one I told that I’d be leaving Ajax and would go to Manchester United. I think in his emotion he’s still Manchester United. He’s a fan: he’s the biggest fan, maybe yeah? Especially in Ajax. But he has to lead Ajax in this moment and I’m sure he will always support Manchester United and he will support me, as long as we are not playing against Ajax.”
It could happen though, couldn’t it?
“I hope [so], because that will tell us we are in the Champions League! We have to return as quickly as possible to that competition.”
There’s been a long line of former Dutch players and managers here. How excited are you to continue that legacy at this club?
“Yeah, I have to do my best and I will give everything, every day. Every day I will go to the maximum that I have, so hopefully I can continue that legacy.”
Manchester United is a club with such rich history. Are you looking forward to learning more about that when you go to Old Trafford and the training complex and just seeing how it all works there?
“Of course. I know the history of Man United, I know the big times and the audience, the vibe that can be around Old Trafford. I watched them in their big times, when Sir Alex Ferguson was manager, during the really successful times when they won titles and were dominating Europe. But also before Sir Alex, Man United was a really big club and I know names like Busby and Charlton that gave Man United a presence to the outside world from winning, and winning in a spectacular way, winning so they entertain people. What stays with me is there was always a fighting culture. They fight together and they get success.”
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Are you looking forward to going for the first time?
“Of course. I just mentioned the vibe that’s in the stadium. Of course I want to get that experience. The fans behind the ambience at Old Trafford… it would be fabulous and I’m really looking forward to getting that experience.”
What will it be like for you when you first walk out that tunnel and you see those 70,000 fans ready to welcome you to Old Trafford?
“I don’t know! [laughs] We have to wait for that moment. What they can expect is that I will give my best. I will give everything necessary to get Man United back where they belong.”
Was it always an aspiration of yours to manage in the Premier League?
“I’m not a dreamer. I live by the day. I give my best and I make my decisions based on clearness and logic. We need a good concept and we need the right people around. When we give everything we have, every day, then we will get success. Then you see where you end up. Live by the day and focus on titles and don’t dream about other things that can happen in the future.”
One of the things Manchester United is known for is its fanbase and a worldwide fanbase. How excited are you to get to know the fans and for the fans to get to know you as well?
“I’ve been aware of the massive presence and the massive audience around Man United. It’s all over the world, so I’ve been aware, and I will do my best and take responsibility to deliver them the success they need.”
“It’s all about that. It’s all about winning titles. When you start a project, what we did in Ajax, the project was I had to make Ajax Europe-proof, and we wanted to be back on top in Holland. When I started PSV was on top, and we changed it. In the last four years, we were the number one continually. I’m happy and satisfied that we achieved that purpose. It was important also to finish in my last season as number one. There was PSV and also Feyenoord who were huge competitors, but finally we won the battle and I’m very happy about that.”
For you, what was your greatest achievement at Ajax in your four years there?
“It’s difficult to choose as you are continually number one, but our journeys in Europe were magnificent. I really enjoyed it and in my first whole season we achieved a semi-final and I think that was the best performance. I think it was a really good performance because it’s not that easy for a club in Holland, not a big league, to compete with the European top clubs. We did and we had some magnificent results. Finally, we were short before the final but it was a magnificent journey we had and the football we played we really enjoyed it, and I believe also the audience in Europe they enjoyed it.”
Is there a game then in particular that you look back on and feel that is exactly how you wanted your team to play?
“Of course there are, but you never can compare teams. The way we did it – with dominant, dictating football – that is the way I want to act in Man United as well. But finally the competence and the quality of the people – so the players – decide how you have to play.”
Do you find that when teams come to Ajax, when they play Ajax, it’s a little bit like a cup final? When teams come to Old Trafford, they play against Man United, it’s a big occasion. Did you see that as well when you were managing Ajax?
“I think that’s the comparison. I have been in Bayern Munich, I have been in Ajax and now I come to Man United. I know our opponents are highly motivated, they are over-motivated to beat Man United and we have to be ready for that. To go and win that battle. Even if they are over-motivated, we have to be more. We always have to be more willing to win the game than the opponent.”
There are quite a lot of similarities between Ajax and United in the sense of bringing younger players through the system, a commitment to attacking football... there’s a big legacy behind both clubs as well. Did you feel the similarities are there when you [agreed to] join Manchester United?
“Yes. Already in your question before, there is a similarity with opponents being highly motivated but also the attacking football. We are playing in the Theatre of Dreams and have to entertain the opponent. We are playing in the opponent’s half and we have to do attacking football. We have to do the pressing, the total high-pressing – that is a similarity also – and the adventurous football. Also Ajax has that history of bringing young talents into the first team.”
Ajax and United are both teams with very clear identities as clubs, but how important is it for you to bring your footballing philosophy to Manchester United?
“We don’t have to go over my football. It’s about the Man United football and about the Man United identity and philosophy. I think that you pointed it out: it has to be about attacking football. We have to bring structures in the way of playing, so we can play attacking football.”
You described Ajax as a fighting machine. Is that how you want to build this United team as well?
“Always. Everywhere I was in my career, I have high demands on my players. I expect them to fight and give 100 per cent. I already mentioned that only good is [not] good enough – no, not only that. We have to do better and they have to co-operate. They have to be unified, to form a team, and to battle the opponent.”
Make sure you return on Tuesday for part two of our Ten Hag interview.