What Erik ten Hag said about Ronaldo's future, Maguire's captaincy and Rangnick's role in first Manchester United press conference
As the blue side of Manchester nursed an almighty hangover the day after the conclusion of the Premier League season, Erik ten Hag got on with the huge task awaiting him at Old Trafford.
Less than 24 hours after Manchester City won their fourth Premier League title in five seasons, new Manchester United manager Ten Hag met members of the media at his first news conference in the role.
The former Ajax boss attended United’s limp season-ending defeat at Crystal Palace on Sunday, but he sought to strike a positive tone.
“I don't see this as a risk,” he replied when asked whether trying to restore United to their considerable former glories put a carefully crafted reputation on the line.
“I think this club has a great history and let's make a future. I'm really excited to do that with the people around in the club – work hard, be 100 percent committed and I'm sure we will have success.”
But there are several issues Ten Hag must grapple with to make that a reality. Although he was keen to give little away, here are three things we gleaned from his initial remarks.
MORE: Worst Manchester United seasons in Premier League historyWill Ronaldo play for Erik ten Hag? Will Harry Maguire be captain?
Ten Hag confirmed his commitment to the attractive style of play those familiar with his Ajax sides will have come to enjoy over recent years. That means high-pressing, aggressive attacking football.
Similar to what took place around the start of Ralf Rangnick’s interim tenure, there will be plenty of discussion around how Ronaldo in his current vintage fits into this. Now 37, some critics have pointed to the Portugal great’s lack of work off the ball at times having a negative impact upon United’s team structure.
On the other hand, without Ronaldo's 24 goals across 39 appearances in all competitions, there's no telling where a side that limped to a sixth-placed finish in the Premier League might have ended up. It seems Ten Hag will, at least initially, focus on that side of the equation.
“Of course,” he replied when asked whether Ronaldo would be part of his United project. What will he bring? “Goals.”
The Dutch tactician refused to elaborate further, saying he will speak to Ronaldo and the rest of his squad once they return for preseason training in the first week of July — highlighting the importance of some time away after a sapping campaign.
There were words of encouragement for Harry Maguire, although perhaps tellingly no guarantee that the embattled England defender will keep the United captaincy.
“Next season is a different season but I think he did a great job. He’s a great player,” he said. “He achieved already a lot in his contribution to Manchester United. I’m looking forward to working with him.”Will Erik ten Hag work with Ralf Rangnick?
Ten Hag was less effusive when it came to working alongside his predecessor. Rangnick is set to undertake what remains a loosely defined consultancy role at United now that he is free of the day-to-day demands of the club, although he will also take the reins as head coach of Austria.
When Rangnick’s assertion that United might need to sign up to 10 new players was raised, Ten Hag was keen to point out he is hardly inheriting a dressing room of duds. “I am still in the process of analysing and setting conclusions,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with these players. The season before this squad was second in the league so they have huge potential.”
Asked whether he would take Rangnick’s observations on board, Ten Hag replied: “I analyse by myself, I observe and I speak with a lot of people but finally I will draw my own line."
When asked whether he endorsed Rangnick’s consultancy role or thought it would be valuable, he said: “That is on the club.”
Ten Hag’s reasoning for appointing Alex Ferguson’s former right-hand man Steve McClaren and Mitchell van der Gaag also felt a little cutting, given the relative thinness of Rangnick’s CV in terms of major honours. “They both know how to get success because they both win titles and trophies in their careers,” he said. “That is why they are here.”Can Manchester United win the Premier League under Erik ten Hag?
The gripping battle for supremacy between Pep Guardiola’s City and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool looks likely to set the temperature for a few years yet in English football, following Guardiola’s latest and most dramatic triumph and Klopp’s recent contract extension until 2026.
United’s sorry current state makes challenging their two loathed rivals look like an impossible task, although Ten Hag swiftly referencing United’s second-place finish in 2020/21 — behind City but above Liverpool — felt like a calm statement of intent.
“In this moment I admire them both,” he said, having coached Bayern Munich’s second string during Guardiola’s time in Bavaria. “In this moment, both Liverpool and Manchester City play fantastic football. But you will always see an era can come to an end. I’m looking forward to battling with them and I’m sure all the clubs in the Premier League will want to do that.”
But can that happen while Guardiola and Klopp continue to go about their dynasty-building? “I think, yeah,” he answered. That alone will feel like music to the ears of United fans, who will be praying Ten Hag is right.