WHEN asked recently how Manchester United could catch up with their biggest rivals Ralf Rangnick said they had to copy their blueprint.
Copy what Manchester City and Liverpool have done in terms of stability at the club, longevity of their managers, the identity of their teams. A clear long-term plan.
Erik ten Hag has been a huge success at AjaxCredit: Getty
It is why the Old Trafford board are turning to Erik ten Hag to take them back to the future.
Not only in terms of success but in the style they want to do it.
United are currently on their fifth manager since Sir Alex Ferguson retired nine years ago.
Ralf Rangnick will have had the shortest reign of six months, although only as interim boss, while Ole Solskjaer the longest at nearly three years.
The stop-start, chop change and often scatter gun spending has left them like an expensive car stuck in the sand with the wheels spinning.
But with Ten Hag they believe that can change.
It is the stability and success that he has brought to the world famous Dutch club that has caught the eye at United since he took charge in December 2017.
He has built two teams in his five years there and at the same time landed silverware.
Without a title in five seasons he delivered the Eredivisie in his first full campaign in charge.
With the season scrapped due to Covid in 2019-20, he effectively won a double-double of League and Cup in 2018-19 and 2020-21.
The four-time European Champions had not reached the knockout stages of the Champions League between 2006 and 2019.
Then Ten Hag, again in his first full campaign, got them to the 2019 semi-final when but for a freak second-leg second-half comeback by Tottenham they would have been in the final.
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Ten Hag has been likened to Johan CruyffCredit: Times Newspapers Ltd
So what style can United fans expect?
Well, when Pep Guardiola was appointed manager of Bayern Munich the first move he made was to get Ten Hag from Dutch side Go Ahead Eagles and put him charge of the German giants’ reserve team.
He recognised the same principles in Ten Hag that he had himself, and that will excite United fans given how Manchester City play.
Ten Hag talking of his time with Guardiola said: “I learned a lot from Guardiola.
“His philosophy is sensational, what he did in Barcelona, Bayern and now with Manchester City, that attacking and attractive style sees him win a lot. It’s this structure that I’ve tried to implement with Ajax.”
So he has, loving a game of possession but pressing high and winning the ball back when they are without it.
He likes his wingers to tuck in so his full-backs can be wingers.
He is flexible switching between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1.
Regarded as a disciple of Dutch legend Johan Cruyff he loves to play a beautiful game.
United have not seen that for some time.
Indeed the question that has been asked for years is ‘just what is United’s style, what is their identity’.
Of course this is tough to stamp on a club quickly.
Louis van Gaal wanted to get United playing like Barcelona.
He went to exhaustive lengths to instill into his players an almost psychic understanding of where teammates are at all times on the pitch.
They just didn’t get it and the fans found the process boring and Van Gaal did not get the time to see it all through.
So will there be more patience for Ten Hag?
Louis van Gaal was sacked by Manchester UnitedCredit: PA:Press Association
Ten Hag is favourite to land the Man United jobCredit: Getty
One thing he will do at United while appreciating their past is not allow it to be a noose around the players’ necks.
Nor let the club believe there is an entitlement to success just because of their name.
It is what he did at Ajax, once commenting: “In Amsterdam, there is also the superiority. The ‘We are Ajax!’ mantra. I see the benefits of this, don’t get me wrong, but I also see the danger.”
A centre-back in his playing days most notably with FC Twente, Ten Hag began his coaching career with Go Ahead Eagles in the second tier of the Dutch league leading them to their first promotion in 17 years in 2012-13.
He moved on to Bayern Munich II and then became Sporting Director and coach at FC Utrecht, finishing fifth and fourth in the Eredivisie in two seasons there before taking over at Ajax.
Now it is next stop Old Trafford.
From the chosen one to the boring one, the special one to the one ‘at the wheel’ and then the interim one.
After nine years without the title, this appointment just has to be the right one.