The evolution of Ten Hag

Thursday 21 April 2022 12:00

Signed, sealed, delivered: Erik ten Hag is taking charge at Old Trafford.

At the end of the 2021/22 season, the 52-year-old Dutchman will become manager of Manchester United as the Reds look towards a bright future under the direction of one of the most exciting coaches in the game.

The evolution in Ten Hag’s reputation has been meticulous, mirroring a rise which has been methodical rather than meteoric. A sharp, ball-playing central defender in his playing days, Erik spent the majority of his career spread across three stints with FC Twente, with whom he won the KNVB Cup in 2001.

After hanging up his boots, a steady ascent up the coaching ladder began, inevitably within the familiar ranks at Twente. When former Reds no.2 Steve McClaren was made manager in 2008, Erik stepped up to become assistant manager and made an immediate impression.

“I thought I worked hard until I met Erik,” McClaren recently told The Daily Telegraph, looking back on a spell which prompted the first Dutch title in Twente’s history.

Club statement: Ten Hag appointed as manager


Read the official press release for quotes from Erik ten Hag and John Murtough.

"His great strength lies not just in his attention to detail and organisation,” continued McClaren. “He has a clear philosophy of how he wants to play football; the environment he wants to create. The player progression programme was a key part of Twente.”

Inevitably, Ten Hag was constantly searching for the next step in his career, with a short-lived assistant’s role at PSV Eindhoven preceding a first foray into management with second-tier Go Ahead Eagles. Erik’s single season in charge resulted in promotion to the top flight and he quickly moved to further his education by taking charge of Bayern Munich II, the German giants’ reserve team.

There, he frequently crossed paths with then-Bayern boss Pep Guardiola, learning his trade for two years before returning to the Eredivisie, where he galvanised unfashionable FC Utrecht and led them to Europa League qualification. When Ajax relieved Marcel Keizer of the head coach’s role in December 2017, Erik’s impressive body of work convinced them to make him their new appointment and the decision was spectacularly validated in the years that followed.

“His Ajax teams are a joy to watch,” Guardiola recently admitted. Front-foot, attack-minded and relentless, Ten Hag’s side are unfathomably easy on the eye year after year, despite a high churn of talents rising through the club’s famed youth ranks and departing. Ajax are currently four points clear of PSV Eindhoven at the head of the Eredivisie table, on course for a third title in four full seasons under Ten Hag’s tutelage, with their free-scoring form running up almost three goals per league game.

Ajax have also made their mark on the Champions League under Erik’s management. His first season in charge was stupefying as his swashbuckling young Ajax stormed to the semi-finals, swatting aside established superpowers Real Madrid and Juventus, before a last-second away-goals defeat to Tottenham in Amsterdam denied the Dutch giants their first final since 1996.

Erik ten Hag has proved his credentials in the Netherlands and the Champions League.
This term, a perfect group-stage campaign yielded six wins and 20 goals, before a shock narrow defeat to Benfica, in the round of 16, left Ajax to focus on domestic matters. Ten Hag arrives at Old Trafford with a mass of silverware to show for his work at the Johan Cruyff Arena. While that kind of success is a key aspect of his appeal, just as enticing is the prospect of replicating his vision for Ajax: an aggressive, expressive, fluid system which captures hearts and imaginations.

Such visions require sturdy foundations which require patience and faith but, in appointing Erik ten Hag as manager, United’s future looks tantalisingly brighter for the years to come.