It is tempting to wonder whether, over the next few months, Erik ten Hag will seek out the advice of the last former Ajax manager to take the Old Trafford hot seat. Louis van Gaal is unlikely to look back on his time at Manchester United with much fondness – he said in a 2019 interview that he felt “betrayed” by the club after all – but the experienced Dutch boss could still offer his compatriot some pointers.
Ten Hag remains focused on Ajax for now. He has three league games remaining as he tries to guide the Amsterdam club to the title ahead of rivals PSV Eindhoven, who trail by four points. But the 52-year-old is sure to be thinking about what awaits him in Manchester, given the magnitude of the step up.
Ten Hag’s only job outside of his home country before this summer came at Bayern Munich’s reserve team. Bayern is a huge club which is just as demanding as United, but the comparison ends there. This is a massive career step for Ten Hag, who will be under pressure as soon as he comes through the door at Carrington.
Lots has changed at the club since Van Gaal arrived back in the summer of 2014 following the dismal 10-month reign of David Moyes. But the basic premise remains the same: Dutch coach renowned for an attacking philosophy tasked with rebuilding a giant club which has fallen on hard times.
JUST IN: Erik ten Hag ‘makes final decision on Cristiano Ronaldo’ at Man Utd
It did not go to plan for Van Gaal, who was sacked after just two years, despite winning the FA Cup just two days beforehand. That abrupt end to his tenure is the reason behind Van Gaal’s “betrayal” comments, which were given to The Guardian in a revealing interview in 2019.
Given Ten Hag’s pending arrival, now is a good time to reflect on what Van Gaal deemed to be the major problems at United. “The problem begins with, of course, that Manchester United was never refreshed,” he said. “I think when you are a manager you have to refresh every year to keep the team-building process going.”
He added: “Yes [I did refresh], but I didn’t always get the players that I want. That’s the problem. There is [Ed] Woodward and his right hand is [head of corporate development] Matt Judge. Judge I met once in a while but not too much. And there was the head of scouting. That was the structure but you are always dependent on Woodward and Judge.”
Jesse Lingard was given a brutal message from Man Utd during talks
Man Utd boss Rangnick ‘not impressed with Hannibal’ as details emerge
Man City eye Frenkie de Jong transfer to scupper Man Utd plans
Did the United hierarchy not take Van Gaal’s advice? “I thought always Manchester United can buy every player because they have a lot of power,” he said. “Seemingly a few players were not reachable for Manchester United. I cannot understand but it was like that.”
While Ten Hag is facing a daunting task – overhauling a squad which has consistently underperformed despite huge expenditure – he should perhaps take comfort in the fact that his arrival is not the only change happening at United. Woodward is gone, having been replaced in February by Richard Arnold as executive vice-chairman. Judge, who is director of football negotiations, is currently working out his notice period.
Arnold may have a similar background as Woodward – Bristol University to banking to United – but, unlike his friend and predecessor, he is understood to be happy to delegate power when it comes to making football decisions. Football director John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher will be the ones helping Ten Hag refresh his squad this summer.
If Van Gaal’s less than favourable assessment of Woodward and Judge is right then it seems as though Ten Hag will be starting his role with an advantage. The Ajax manager needs a clean slate from which to start with and then more patience than Woodward showed Van Gaal to rebuild United.