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Theatre of Dreams will be Erik Ten Hag’s baptism of fire

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo hands his hat-trick ball to teammate Alejandro Garnacho following the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester on April 16, 2022. Picture date: Martin Rickett

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo hands his hat-trick ball to teammate Alejandro Garnacho following the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester on April 16, 2022. Picture date: Martin Rickett

Published Apr 24, 2022


Johannesburg - It will not be lost on newly appointed Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag that he has taken on one of the hottest seats in football, one in which the rebuild he has been tasked with will see him having to put out more fires than he has ever had to before.

The Dutchman emerged this week as the new man in charge of the record 20-time English champions. To say that the 52-year-old will be staring at a near impossible task when he enters United’s Carrington Training Complex wouldn’t be an understatement.

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Ten Hag is no managerial novice. He is on his way to a third Dutch top flight crown with Ajax Amsterdam, having already won two Eredivisie titles since joining the club ahead of the 2017/2018 season.

On the surface, it would be easy to think that this is the type of trophy-winning success that appears to have piqued the interest of the powers that be at Manchester United, but there is a deeper rationale behind the sixth managerial appointment since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.

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It is his reawakening of the record 35 times Dutch champions as a force on the European stage, with their entertaining run to the 2018/2019 Uefa Champions League semi-finals particularly memorable, that sealed Ten Hag’s reputation as a highly respected manager.

However, reawakening United from its almost decade long domestic and continental slumber ranks as the biggest challenge of Ten Hag’s 10-year managerial career. He has also managed Go Ahead Eagles and Utrecht and had a two-year spell managing Bayern Munich’s reserve side where he worked under Pep Guardiola - his soon-to-be opposite number in the Manchester Derby.

One of Ten Hag’s first tasks will be to do away with senior and popular members of the United squad such as the long-serving yet injury prone Phil Jones who has not made more than 11 appearances in the last three seasons. The list includes another equally injury-prone Eric Bailly, the increasingly lethargic Marcus Rashford and the inconsistent Anthony Martial who is on loan at Sevilla.

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Most significant for Ten Hag will be how the club backs him in the upcoming European summer transfer window.

If Ten Hag is not backed in the transfer market, it will be hard to imagine what he can do to improve this current group who have looked out of sorts and demotivated under both the sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the current interim manager Ralf Rangnick.

Reports suggest that the new manager has instructed United’s board to bring in his current player at Ajax, Antony. The fleet footed, goalscoring Brazilian dribbling wizard will need more than just the Samba sensation if he is to get off to a great start at Old Trafford.

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Defensive reinforcements are a necessity, particularly at centre back and right back and he will do well to prise away Inter Milan defensive duo Milan Skriniar and Denzel Dumfries from the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium.

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United’s often overrun, outsmarted and outfought midfield will need the defensive steel and guile of West Ham’s England international Declan Rice, Wolves’ Portuguese midfield

grafter Ruben Neves or the rising French star Aurelien Tchouameni of AS Monaco.

As it looks increasingly likely that long time United target Erling Haaland will head to the blue of half of Manchester if he does not go for the bright lights of Madrid, with Real also tipped as favourites for his signature, the Red Devils will need to add firepower in attack.

Ten Hag’s United has been linked with 22-year-old Uruguayan Darwin Nunez who has been in sublime goalscoring form for Portuguese giants Benfica, netting 33 goals in 38 appearances, including six strikes in the Champions League.

With Rashford reportedly looking for a new lease on life away from Old Trafford, United should use the England international as a make-weight in a deal for Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez who possesses all the attributes to take the English game by storm.

Other strikers Ten Hag should consider are AS Roma’s Tammy Abraham, SSC Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa who is in red hot form for Brazilian giants Flamengo.

However United’s transfer window pans out, Ten Hag will know that anything short of a positive start to the 2022/2023 campaign will mean he is in for a baptism of fire that not many of his recent predecessors have survived.

IOL sport

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Manchester UnitedEPL