Manchester United’s new manager Erik ten Hag confirmed Cristiano Ronaldo was part of his plans for next season while answering questions on Harry Maguire and disrupting Man City and Liverpool’s Premier League dominance in his first news conference.
Ten Hag greeted the media with handshakes and smiles at Old Trafford on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after he watched from the stands as his new side brought an end to their worst season in the Premier League era with a 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace.
The Dutchman, who arrives from Ajax after winning three league titles in four years, traveled to London last week to get a head start on his plans for the new season, and has now finalized his backroom staff appointments with Mitchell van der Gaag and Steve McClaren confirmed on Monday morning.
Ten Hag gave little away in his first formal interaction with the British media, but here are some of the key topics he covered …
Asked if Ronaldo fits into his project, Ten Hag said: “Of course.”
On what Ronaldo will bring, he simply added: “Goals!”
Pressed on whether he was looking for leadership from Ronaldo, he said: “I talk first with Ronaldo before I talk to you.”
Maguire and the captaincy
Asked if he wants Maguire to be his captain next season, Ten Hag said: “Next season is a different season, he is a great player. He already achieved a lot and also [made a] contribution to Man Utd. I am looking forward to working with him. “
Breaking the Pep-Klopp dominance
Asked if Manchester City and Liverpool’s stranglehold on the Premier League title race under Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp could be disrupted, Ten Hag said: “At this moment, I admire them both. They play really fantastic football, both Liverpool and Man City. But you always see an era can come to an end and I’m looking forward to battling with them.
“And I am sure all the other clubs in the Premier League want to do that.”
Asked if City and Liverpool’s dominance could end while they are still in charge, he added: “I think, yeah.”
Rangnick and his consultancy role
Asked if he will take on board Rangnick’s views, he said: “I think it’s part of my analysis, I observe and I speak with a lot of people. But finally I will draw my own line.
Pressed on if he endorses Rangnick’s consultancy role, he added: “That is on the club.”
On Van Gaal’s ‘commercial club’ criticisms
In March, former United boss Louis van Gaal, who was sacked in 2016 after winning the FA Cup, warned his fellow Dutchman not to move to Manchester.
The Netherlands head coach said: “Manchester United are a commercial club, so it’s a difficult choice for a coach. He’d better go to a football club. “
Asked about Van Gaal’s comments, Ten Hag said: “I have heard what he said, but I draw my own line. I am convinced that this is not the case. I spoke with the directors about it, but football is [priority] one, two and three in this club.
“Every club these days is commercial, every club needs it, you need the revenues to be in the top. So to do it is necessary but football is one, two and three in this football club.”
Ten Hag: The situation is not good at Man Utd
Before his press conference, Ten Hag told club media that the situation at Old Trafford is “not that good” but said he is convinced he can achieve success while restoring United’s attacking philosophy.
Speaking to MUTV, Ten Hag said: “The current situation is obviously not that good. It’s a big challenge.
“I want to build and construct a team who are battling for each other, who are unified and who will get results. Also we are playing in the Theater of Dreams.
“We want to entertain. But in the end, the intention is to play fantastic football. If we can not play fantastic football, we still have to win.”
Ten Hag, who confirmed pre-season would begin on June 27, added: “In certain positions we want to renew the squad, but one year ago this squad was second in the league, so there is potential and I’m really looking forward to co-operate with the squad. “
‘I want to play dominant football at Man Utd’
Ten Hag has restored Ajax as the dominant force in Dutch football, winning three Eredivisie titles in his four seasons in Amsterdam, while also re-establishing them in Europe.
But he was always insistent they played in the Ajax way, controlling games with possession and overwhelming teams with their energy and pressing – something he hopes he can bring to United.
“The way we did it – with dominant, dictating football – that is the way I want to act in Man United as well,” added Ten Hag. “But finally the competence and the quality of the people – so the players – decide how you have to play.”
He added: “We are playing in the Theater of Dreams and have to entertain the opponent. We are playing in the opponent’s half and we have to do attacking football. We have to do the pressing, the total high-pressing – that is a similarity also – and the adventurous football. “
‘I know the history of Man Utd – winning in a spectacular way’
United have failed to recreate the entertaining brand of football that made the club so successful under Sir Alex Ferguson since he retired in 2013.
Ten Hag is aware of the traditions at Old Trafford, and is clear that his team must be built in the image of the “attack, attack, attack” philosophy that made the club a world power in football.
“We do not have to go over my football,” said Ten Hag. “It’s about the Man United football and about the Man United identity and philosophy. I think that you pointed it out: it has to be about attacking football. We have to bring structures in the way of playing, so we can play attacking football. “
He added: “Of course. I know the history of Man United, I know the big times and the audience, the vibe that can be around Old Trafford. I watched them in their big times, when Sir Alex Ferguson was manager, during the really successful times when they won titles and were dominating Europe.
“But also before Sir Alex, Man United was a really big club and I know names like Busby and Charlton that gave Man United a presence to the outside world from winning, and winning in a spectacular way, winning so they entertain people. What stays with me is there was always a fighting culture. They fight together and they get success. “
Neville on Ten Hag: It’s a huge step up
Speaking on the latest Gary Neville podcast on the final day of the season, the Sky Sports pundit said: “I’ve not seen the game but you can imagine it, Crystal Palace beating Manchester United 1-0.
“It’s been a desperate season and Erik Ten Hag has seen a glimpse probably of what the rest of us have seen all the way through. I do not think any Manchester United fans wanted to watch a Manchester United game in these last few weeks. We’ve almost wanted the season to end immediately and switch our attention to the summer and see how a new manager can come in with optimism.
“He’s got a big job, expectations next season with the four managers and four clubs that are in front of him at the moment will not be too high. Manchester United will want to break into the top four but there’ll be time and patience because it’s gone from 12 months ago preparing for a Europa League final and finishing second above Liverpool.If you think where we are today, I can not explain it.
“It’s a huge step up. Ajax are a great football club with great history and a big fan base that expect. He’s had that expectation placed upon him but you’ve also got a great chance of winning the league because Ajax do spend a lot more than a lot of the other clubs over there, that’s expected. But Manchester United have spent more than a lot of the other clubs and have not delivered. He needs time to be able to settle into the club, get used to the club It’s a huge football club, the media here, the expectation, Manchester United is always the story. People either want to watch Man United win or they want to watch them lose, it’s a fact of life. They’ll always be the story even in a bad season like this because there’s an element of wanting to watch the disaster happening before your eyes.
“That season needs putting to bed very quickly, it’s been an awful season for Manchester United on and off the pitch.”