The Erik ten Hag era at Manchester United is officially underway.
While the Cristiano Ronaldo and Frenkie de Jong sagas might be dangling a dark cloud over Old Trafford at the moment, the everyday work at Carrington must carry on regardless with Ten Hag getting to know his new squad.
Transfers or not, Ronaldo or not, Ten Hag must still dig deep to ensure that a United team coming off the back of their worst ever Premier League points tally can at least start competing for top four finishes once again.
The Ten Hag era at Man Utd
Pre-season training got underway on Monday with the new boss getting the chance to work with stars such as Jadon Sancho, David de Gea, Victor Lindelof, Donny van de Beek and others ahead of the vital 2022/23 campaign.
And the early murmurs from the United training ground suggests that Ten Hag’s regime has already cut a very different look to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick’s tenures at the club.
In fact, a fascinating report in The Sun has given United fans a tantalising glimpse into how the former Ajax coach is attempting to turn things around at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’.
From nipping pedestrian passing in the bud to cutting out the negative body language, it sounds as though the 52-year-old is going above and beyond the call of duty to eliminate all the bad habits at the club.
“RONALDO Quits UNITED! THIS IS RIDICULOUS!” (Football Terrace)
Ten Hag lays down the law
The report explains that Ten Hag wants to return to the attacking football of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson’s glory days with the help of his assistant coach Steve McClaren.
In order to achieve that, the Dutchman has already laid out exactly what he expects from players moving forward with his rules, regulations and punishments including:
- Zero tolerance for consistent sideways and backwards passing with players who do NOT pass forward getting subbed off
- Players must improve on fitness and ‘unacceptable’ body language from the previous year
- Cliques in the dressing room are to be dismantled
- Younger players will get their chance to compete for places with the senior stars
- Only training performances will count in selection policy and not wages or medal hauls
The crackdown on, well, passive passing is certainly interesting because it’s one of the biggest complaints that United fans have had with the team in recent years, bemoaning the sheer lack of coherency in their build-up play.
A source explained on the matter: “There has been a lot of attention on one and two-touch passing drills where players must try to go forward.
“If they go sideways or backwards too often he stops the game and the player is taken off for a minute or two.”
Players listening attentively
And the early configuration of the Ten Hag era seems to have gone down well with the players, who are said to be listening with a keen interest whenever he commands their attention.
The source continued: “It is just the start, but the players are tuned in. When he speaks, everyone – absolutely everyone – listens. The training sessions have been tough but they are also enjoyable.
“Plenty of one-touch, two-touch, quick football and forward-thinking play. He tells them that the best form of defence is possession. He wants to tire out the opponents by keeping the ball and moving it quickly.
“The quality isn’t there just yet because it’s early in the pre-season. Plus, it requires a lot of practice to build up the levels of quality needed for such a strategy.
“Some players have struggled with their touch and their passes but Ten Hag and the rest of the coaching staff have been encouraging.
“Lots of the players had a really bad end to the season and then it’s tough to relax and unwind over the summer as they are frustrated.
“Some weren’t looking forward to coming back because the dressing-room mood has been bad, but that fog has lifted and they are enjoying themselves again. There is a spring in everyone’s step and they feel united.”
Pretty positive stuff, right? But don’t get the impression that Ten Hag is going soft because he’s also made it crystal-clear in lengthy meetings that fitness, body language and squad togetherness must all be upped.
No guarantees for senior players
And there’s definitely an incentive for the senior players to knuckle down in their attempts to rediscover their best form because United’s new manager won’t be afraid to play younger stars in their place if need be.
Zidane Iqbal, Alejandro Garnacho and Hannibal Mejbri are all said to have impressed Ten Hag with the United source explaining: “A lot of the younger players have been in the training sessions, too.
“He has been impressed with Ibqal and wonders why he has not featured more. Ten Hag is trying to tell the senior players that their positions are up for grabs, too.
“If they work hard, the players willing to carry out his instructions will take the first-team spots. Everyone has stepped up their game and it’s creating healthy competition.”
Ten Hag is also said to be using the 2022 World Cup as an incentive for players to put in the hard yards and wants total loyalty from them towards himself, the team, the club and the coaching staff.
So far, so good
So, sure, United fans have been there, done that and got the t-shirt. This isn’t the first time that a new manager has taken over and inside information has leaked about all the positives changes being made.
However, lest we forget that all of this tantalising insight comes on top of the fact that Ten Hag just happens to be one of the most exciting and forward-thinking coaches in the men’s game right now.
That doesn’t mean that success is guaranteed at Old Trafford, don’t get it twisted, but try reading that report back over and saying that the early signs aren’t promising while keeping a straight face. So far, so good.