Head coach or manager? Five hurdles Erik ten Hag and Man Utd must clear in contract talks

Manager Erik ten Hag celebrates with the FA Cup trophy after his Manchester United team defeated rivals City - Head coach or manager? Five hurdles Erik ten Hag and Man Utd must clear in contract talks

Manchester United and Erik ten Hag are hoping to reach a swift agreement over a contract extension after the club decided to keep faith with the Dutchman following talks with more than half-a-dozen potential replacements. With the contract negotiations likely to necessitate compromises on both sides, Telegraph Sport looks at the hurdles they must navigate.

Length of contract

Ten Hag’s current deal runs until the end of next season and the Dutchman wants any new contract to demonstrate a long-term commitment on Ineos’s part. As reported by Telegraph Sport on Thursday, a two-year extension to 2027 would be Ten Hag’s expectation rather than just an additional year. It is unclear if Ineos would raise the prospect of a break clause in any longer-term agreement. 

A United delegation led by Sir Dave Brailsford, the Ineos director of sport, had demonstrated contrition towards Ten Hag during constructive face-to-face talks on Tuesday in Ibiza, where the manager has been holidaying. The challenge now is to show they are serious about moving forward together after the strain put on their relationship by their courtship of potential replacements.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag - Head coach or manager? Five hurdles Erik ten Hag and Man Utd must clear in contract talks
Erik ten Hag has been given a second chance with Manchester United - PA/Martin Rickett

Indeed, it should not be overlooked that the consensus after a meeting in Monaco on May 14 between the Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Brailsford, interim chief executive Jean-Claude Blanc and technical director Jason Wilcox was that Ten Hag was to go. Talks, either directly or through representatives, followed with the likes of Thomas Tuchel, Roberto De Zerbi, Kieran McKenna, Thomas Frank, Mauricio Pochettino and Marco Silva. In the end, though, United opted against making a change.

The situation undermined Ten Hag’s authority but the goodwill on both sides to move forward must now translate into genuine realignment and debunk the theory the former Ajax coach is merely keeping the seat warm until someone better comes along.

Transfer control

Ten Hag has exerted huge control over transfers since taking charge at Old Trafford - and with decidedly mixed results. It was at his insistence, for example, that United spend 14 weeks pursuing Frenkie de Jong, even though the Netherlands midfielder had little interest in leaving Barcelona, and go all in for Antony, for whom they paid £85.5million, more than £30million above their upper price limit.

Antony warms up ahead of the FA Cup last month - Head coach or manager? Five hurdles Erik ten Hag and Man Utd must clear in contract talks
Erik ten Hag-backed signings such as Antony, for £85.5million, have backfired - Getty Images/Ash Donelon

Ten Hag has an agreement in his contract giving him a veto on transfers if he does not agree with the recommendations of the scouts, but Ineos now wants transfers to be driven by the recruitment team. It is thought there is little chance of Ten Hag being willing to give up influence over recruitment in its entirety, but it remains to be seen if he is open to his so-called “veto” being recategorised as “input”, or something broader that at least gives him a voice in the process, should Ineos seek changes.

Manager vs head coach

Ineos favours the idea of a head coach working within a cohesive, high-functioning structure. Any eventual successor to Ten Hag is likely to carry that title rather than the one of manager that the Dutchman currently has. It is not certain Ineos would look to insist on a change of title during contract discussions, but it could encounter resistance on Ten Hag’s part should it do so, given the clear expectations he has around his role at Old Trafford.

Game model

This could be the biggest source of tension during talks - and may require the most compromise if negotiations are not to unravel. Ten Hag bristled at the idea of having a style of play and identity imposed on him when Telegraph Sport reported in April how Wilcox had been tasked by Ineos and incoming chief executive Omar Berrada with establishing a “game model”.

He even fired back in his programme notes for the Burnley game, insisting he had been developing “a shared game model, with consistent training methods and playing styles”. The benefits of a more compact midfield and set-up were evident in the impressive FA Cup final victory over Manchester City and such moves could be encouraged by Wilcox as part of a 4-3-3 system with wide wingers.

Jason Wilcox, technical director of Manchester United - Head coach or manager? Five hurdles Erik ten Hag and Man Utd must clear in contract talks
Jason Wilcox, United's technical director, will oversee a new 'game model' at Old Trafford - Getty Images/Richard Heathcote

United’s hierarchy was alarmed at how open and exposed the team were last season. But Ten Hag has long been of the view that the style of play needs to be determined by the manager and is unlikely to take kindly to changes being imposed on him.

Coaching staff

The make-up of Ten Hag’s backroom staff is also likely to form an important part of contract discussions. Ten Hag’s forwards coach, Benni McCarthy, is out of contract at the end of this month and wants clarity on his future. Darren Fletcher vacated the title of technical director following Wilcox’s arrival and is also waiting to discover what the future holds for him. Eric Ramsay, the set-piece coach, was never replaced after leaving Old Trafford in February to become head coach of Major League Soccer outfit Minnesota United.

Ten Hag values his principal assistants Mitchell van der Gaag, another strong-willed and principled figure, and Steve McClaren, but there was talk during the season of Ineos potentially looking to reshape or add to the manager’s coaching team. This is an area where Ten Hag may be open to recommendations, although there may be difficulties if he felt someone he did not want was being forced on him.