Erik ten Hag appointment gives Manchester United a lift but he faces huge task to spark club into life

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·4-min read
Erik ten Hag appointment gives Manchester United a lift but he faces huge task to spark club into life
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Manchester United were in desperate need of a good news story — some red meat for Reds fans, red with rage. Step forward Erik ten Hag.

The announcement of his appointment yesterday smacked of a club scrambling for that new manager bounce before his Old Trafford reign has even begun.

So, there is an early insight into what the Dutchman is stepping into: a club in crisis.

It has been a horrible week for United, which has seen them humiliated by their fiercest rivals, Liverpool, while learning that long-time target Erling Haaland is on his way to Manchester City.

The gap is widening, but the gamble is that Ten Hag can bridge it.

He was the populist choice, with supporters on social media determining he, not Mauricio Pochettino, is the man to take the fight to Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Do not underestimate just how influential opinions on Twitter and Facebook are to the powers that be at United, not least new chief executive Richard Arnold, who regularly equates success with likes, retweets, hashtags and trends.

The hope is that Ten Hag is the next Klopp, and it is the promise of the unknown that is so tantalising. He certainly convinced football director John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher to switch their focus from Pochettino.

During discussions with them and, later, Arnold, he laid out an enticing vision of the future; his commitment to modern, attacking football and his determination to continue the club’s rich tradition of youth development. Meanwhile, his record of improving players struck a chord with United’s hierarchy, given their expensively-assembled squad that has gone into such sharp decline.

He also arrives as a proven winner — delivering two Dutch titles and two cups for Ajax, who could be crowned champions again this season.

If that is what Ten Hag will bring to United, it is reasonable to ask what they can do for him?

The priority between now and the end of the campaign is to secure Champions League football for the incoming manager, which is why tomorrow’s clash with Arsenal is so vital to their chances of a top-four finish.

Victory against Chelsea on Wednesday reignited the Gunners’ bid to return to the top table of European football — moving them level on points with Tottenham and three clear of United, with a game in hand over the Red Devils. They could go a long way towards killing off United’s challenge with another win at the Emirates.

There is an argument to say a first season without the Champions League could be a benefit to Ten Hag. United have serially failed in the competition post-Sir Alex Ferguson, while a top-four finish for him next term would represent an achievable target and tangible improvement.

But there will almost certainly be European football of some description, so he will not have the luxury of long weeks working with players on the training ground, as was the case for Antonio Conte in his title-winning first season at Chelsea.

Ten Hag will know he is in for the challenge of his life from day one, and there will be no excuse for coming into the job blind.

For all the talk of a rebuild, he will be expected to hit the ground running. He is already giving himself the best chance by agreeing to begin work well before the summer and has been given a pivotal role in recruitment.

That was a key reason why United wanted a new man in place before the end of the season, quite apart from the need to lift fans, as a miserable campaign drifts towards its conclusion.

His Ajax assistant, Mitchell van der Gaag, is set to join him, while he is keen to bring in former England manager and United No2, Steve McClaren.

But recruitment will be key, with Harry Kane and Declan Rice among United’s targets. Kalvin Phillips, Ajax winger Antony and Benfica striker Darwin Nunez are also on their radar. Jude Bellingham is seen as a dream signing but is unlikely to be available this summer.

Interim boss Ralf Rangnick claimed after defeat to Liverpool that it could require as many as 10 new signings to close the gap. That is impossible in one transfer window.

Ten Hag, meanwhile, is latest to be tasked with the challenge of cracking what is increasingly looking like the impossible job.

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