The new Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag believes he can break Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp’s stranglehold on English football.
Ten Hag’s first press conference as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s long-term successor yesterday lunchtime came less than 24 hours after Guardiola’s Manchester City clinched a fourth Premier League title in five seasons by a point from Klopp’s Liverpool.
Liverpool – the 2019/’20 title winners who have already won the FA Cup and League Cup this season – hope to make it a treble of trophies by beating Real Madrid in the Champions League final next Saturday night.
By contrast, Ten Hag takes over a United side that have just finished with their lowest points total of the Premier League era – a staggering 35 points adrift of City – and a squad that has been riven with infighting and in drastic need of an overhaul.
But the Dutchman – who has just guided Ajax to their third Eredivisie title in four seasons – does not believe it will require the departure of Guardiola or Klopp for their cycle of dominance to end.
“In this moment, I admire them both, Manchester City and Liverpool,” he said.
“They both play really fantastic football, both Liverpool and Man City. But you will always see an era can come to an end and I am looking forward to battle with them, and I am sure all the other Premier League clubs will want to do that.”
Asked if that could be done before Guardiola or Klopp left England, Ten Hag added: “I think yeah.”
Ten Hag was advised against taking the job by former United manager and fellow Dutchman, Louis van Gaal, who suggested he would be “better off going to a football club” than a “commercial club” like United.
Ten Hag admitted he had spoken to Van Gaal about the job but said he formed his own judgments about United and that commercial operations were an important revenue driver for all clubs.
“I have heard [about Van Gaal’s remarks], but I draw my own line,” he said. “I’m convinced this will not be the case. I spoke with the directors about it. Football is one, two and three at this club and every club these days is commercial. Every club needs it, needs the revenues to be at the top, to do it is necessary but football is one, two, three at this club.
“I spoke with more people who have experience with this club, with experts, but I will draw my own line. I spoke with Louis. I was at his movie premiere.”
Ralf Rangnick has been extremely vocal about what needs to change at United following a six-month interim spell in charge following Solskjaer’s sacking last November and suggested the club needs the equivalent of “open heart” surgery.
Rangnick is keen to present his findings about the squad to Ten Hag, who, asked if he would listen to the German’s recommendations, said: “I think it’s part of my analysis I analyse by myself and I speak with a lot of people. But finally I will draw my own line.”
Asked if he endorsed the consultancy role Rangnick is due to now take on, Ten Hag added: “That is on the club.”
Ten Hag insisted he did not believe he has taken a gamble accepting the job but, despite the scale of the rebuilding task, the Dutchman admitted that time was a precious commodity at top clubs.
“I don’t see it as a risk. This club has a great history and now let’s make a future. It will be exciting to do that,” he said.
Asked how long he feels it will take to get United back on top and whether he will get the time he needs, Ten Hag added: “I don’t think about that in this moment. What we’re thinking is: ‘This is a project and it takes time’, but I also know at this club and at other clubs like Ajax and Bayern Munich that at the top there is never time but we want to win every game so we go from game to game and then we will see.”
Ten Hag said recruitment would be “important part” going forward and said he “would like to work” with the scouting teams.
He insisted Cristiano Ronaldo would have a part to play. Asked when he expects from the Portugal forward, Ten Hag: “Goals! I talk first with Ronaldo before I talk with you.”
Ten Hag also sidestepped questions over whether he would stick by Harry Maguire as captain.
“Next season is a different season but he did a great job,” Ten Hag said. “He’s a great player he achieved already a lot. A contribution to Manchester United so I’m looking forward to working with him.”
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