CHRIS WHEELER: Erik ten Hag is a new breed of United

CHRIS WHEELER: Erik ten Hag eats, sleeps and breathes football but cares little for the circus it creates… it’s no surprise Pep Guardiola took a shine to him. He seems like the man to help Manchester United get REAL

  • Erik ten Hag takes a very different media approach to his predecessors
  • He is close to bringing in his former Ajax colleague Lisandro Martinez
  • A deal for Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong also looks to be in place this summer
  • The new boss could be the change United need to challenge for trophies again

Manchester United managers have never lacked personality. 

There was a gladiatorial air about our weekly audiences with Sir Alex Ferguson, and that’s just how he liked it. Louis van Gaal was wonderfully eccentric; Jose Mourinho entertainingly malevolent. 

David Moyes and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were far more amiable but no less quotable. So too Ralf Rangnick and his penchant for going off-message.

Erik ten Hag is looking to return Manchester United to the top of English football

 Erik ten Hag is a different kind of animal altogether. A true tracksuit coach. A football obsessive who you feel would happily block out all the outside noise — the agents, the sponsors and, yes, the media — to focus on what really matters to him. 

It is no surprise that Pep Guardiola took a shine to Ten Hag when they worked together at Bayern Munich. He will have recognised a kindred spirit. A man who eats, sleeps and breathes football but cares little for the circus it creates. 

That doesn’t make Ten Hag any less interesting. Far from it. But don’t expect the 52-year-old to run his mouth, as the Americans say, in the hope of causing a stir or gaining an advantage over his opponent. 

The new manager takes a very different media approach to that of Sir Alex Ferguson

Ten Hag will say what he wants to say. Ferguson often saw his press conferences as an opportunity to fire an opening salvo. Ten Hag views it as an obligation. His English is passable rather than polished, although infinitely better than my Dutch. 

We’ll have to get used to the fact that his sentences end rather unexpectedly. He seems slightly uncomfortable in the media glare, but that will pass. 

There is no lack of humour, as his hairdryer comment yesterday demonstrated. When we landed in Bangkok 10 days ago, a question about United’s transfer targets was met with a curt seven-word answer, an awkward silence and then laughter as Ten Hag’s stony-faced expression turned into a smile. 

Lisandro Martinez is one of several of ten Hag’s former Ajax players who could join United

Do we believe that he is comfortable over the distracting saga with Cristiano Ronaldo? Not really. Do we accept that United are shopping for players with an uncanny association to his old club Ajax because Englishmen are too expensive? Probably not, given that Lisandro Martinez cost £55.3million and United have a £71m deal in place for Frenkie de Jong. 

But United brought in the Dutchman because he is a coach who has a clear idea of what he wants and what he has to do to achieve it. 

After nearly a decade of over-spending and underachievement, they are a club that need to get real. And, in Erik ten Hag, they have the right kind of man to do just that. 

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