IAN HERBERT: Erik ten Hag insists he will be able to make the egos in Manchester United’s squad fall into line once he takes charge… as Ajax boss vows to be a leader and protect players from criticism at Old Trafford
- Managing egos at Manchester United has always been a challenge for bosses
- But incoming manager Erik ten Hag insists that he will make players fall in line
- He wants to understand what makes his squad tick to get the best out of them
- Ten Hag has historically stood by players and colleagues amid controversy
The Manchester United egos will be a major part of the challenge for Erik ten Hag. Even in the week that his appointment as manager was announced, Eric Bailly used Instagram to make a case to start in central defence instead of Harry Maguire.
Ralf Rangnick publicly rebuked the Ivorian defender for that on Friday, though Ten Hag has indicated in his first discussion of his new Old Trafford role that he can make the egos work to his advantage by understanding what makes players tick.
‘This [the egos] is the biggest challenge for every trainer-coach at the moment,’ he said. ‘Those egos are also created by society, aren’t they? And they are also necessary to survive in such a world. But I have to make sure they keep working together.’
Erik ten Hag insists that he can deal with the biggest egos in Manchester United’s squad
Sir Alex Ferguson had his own views on players using social media. ‘Get down to the library and read a book instead,’ he once said. But Ten Hag made it clear that he accepted this as one of the many complexities which made a manager’s job something like a social worker’s these days.
‘In the last century, the world was still relatively uncluttered,’ he said in the interview, with Dutch newspaper Trouw. ‘The internet has changed a lot. People’s problems are becoming more and more complex as society becomes more and more complex. You can also see that in football players. If you want to get the most out of people, you have to take an interest in them.’
Like Ferguson, he makes it an article of faith not to criticise players in public. At Ajax, he stood by midfielder Quincy Promes after his arrest in connection with a stabbing, for which Dutch prosecutors have since said they will press attempted murder charges.
Ten Hag told Trouw he stood by his support for the Dutch international, who is now with Spartak Moscow. ‘People make mistakes. But that does not mean that I completely write off a person or that he can no longer come to me.’
Defender Eric Bailly made his desire to start under ten Hag known on social media this week
Ten Hag stood by Ajax’s Quincy Promes when he was arrested in connection with a stabbing
He said that he also remained a friend of Marc Overmars, his director of football at Ajax, who left the club after it emerged he had sent inappropriate messages to female colleagues.
‘Yes, we are still in touch,’ Ten Hag said. ‘And that is more than business. My job is to keep things together. That includes sticking up for people. I also do that from my heart. We humans are in this world to help each other and not to shoot each other.’
Many of his former players have spoken of the extraordinary loyalty the 52-year-old can command, though there is a consensus that adapting to his methods can take time.
‘Where Erik works, he needs time,’ his former assistant Alfred Schreuder, a leading candidate to replace him at Ajax, once said. His former Utrecht player Willem Janssen on Saturday described how Ten Hag’s instruction had taken some getting used to. It was painstakingly detailed and not communicated effortlessly.
The legendary Sir Alex Ferguson preached that he would never criticise his players publicly
‘His way of talking was a bit wooden, rigid and clumsy, with a lot of ‘Ehhs’. Boys quickly joked about it,’ he said. ‘But I was soon enthusiastic.’
Some of the Amsterdam commentariat gave him a hard time when he arrived at Ajax because of his provincial dialect. One piece depicted him as a ‘garden gnome’. Another suggested that Schreuder was the brains of the partnership.
But his tactical acumen and record made fools of those who ridiculed him. His Ajax side remain on track to win a third successive Eredivisie after a 1-0 win over NEC Nijmegen on Saturday. Bobby Brobbey scored a Fergie Time winner in the 88th minute.
Given the deep uncertainty about what lies ahead, it is perhaps for the best that that he has interests beyond football. ‘I follow politics and come from an entrepreneurial family [which is in property],’ he told Trouw.
Ten Hag knows that taking the Manchester United job comes with many added complexities
‘That entrepreneurship is in me. During my holidays I like to read books about commerce, marketing, psychogy and I use that in my profession.’
He said he can deal with the Cristiano Ronaldos of this world. ‘I say who has what task. Those who do not meet it will be told that, regardless of who they are.’
But he clearly views himself as a manager who is on players’ side. ‘I protect people outwardly,’ he said.
‘Internally, it can be different if someone has crossed a border. You have to be able to trust each other, otherwise you can’t get results. If my protective attitude comes at the expense of myself, so be it. I am the manager, the leader. I do that.’
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