Manchester United are a team made famous by their successes. For 27 years under Sir Alex Ferguson the team defined the new Premier League era and became the most successful club in England and one of the biggest in the world.
Since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 the club has never been able to replicate the success of his tenure. David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, José Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, and Ralf Rangnick were all unable to change the trajectory of Manchester United during their time in charge.
Now, the Manchester club enters a new era. Erik ten Hag begins his first transfer window as manager trying to organize what will undoubtedly be a difficult rebuild. Only time will tell if the long-term issues that have defined the last decade are fixed.
A New Era Brings New Challenges
As Ten Hag’s tenure gets underway there are more changes being made at United than just the manager. Richard Arnold recently began his new role as Chief Executive Officer after the departure of Ed Woodward, with one of his first major decisions being the hire of Ten Hag as manager.
The changes extend beyond the business side of Manchester United. This is most notable in the promotion of John Murtough, who is beginning his first summer as the club’s football director.
Murtough and Ten Hag will work closely together during this summer’s transfer window. The summer will be key for the two executives as they gain more experience in their new roles in what is possibly the most important transfer window in recent memory for the club.
At Ajax Ten Hag won the Eredivise title three times, and reached the semi-final of the Champions League in 2019 with players such as Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Hakim Ziyech, and Donny van de Beek. The European success of that season’s team, and the subsequent success of many of its’ most important players in other leagues in the years following, gave Ten Hag a reputation as a great identifier of talent and developer of young players.
Those qualities will be key for Ten Hag, who takes over a Manchester United squad that needs improvement in all areas of the pitch. In recent memory, the transfer market has been a key weakness for the club. There were often issues in signing new players, in an efficient amount of time and for the right amount of money, that fit the style of play the manager was trying to create.
This presents a challenge for Arnold, Murtough, and Ten Hag. During this summer all three face not only the beginning of a rebuild for the club, but also the difficulty of trying to reshape Manchester United’s image in the transfer market. As time continues and the end of summer begins, Ten Hag’s challenges will extend even further, as he reshapes the style of play into what made his teams at Ajax successful.
Changing the Style of Play
When Ten Hag begins his first preseason as manager in July, he will try to implement a new system and style of play that has had proven success domestically in the Netherlands and internationally in the Champions League. Ten Hag’s style of play is influenced by newfound crosstown rival Pep Guardiola, and emphasizes winning the ball back quickly after a change of possession along with quick, defined passing movements organized by a strong midfield.
It is likely that when the preseason gets underway, there will have been a lot of change within Manchester United’s squad. Paul Pogba is the most significant departure set to take place this summer, with Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, and others all leaving the team.
Ten Hag’s influence in decision-making on the transfer market has already been seen. Jurrien Timber and Frenkie de Jong, although the latter seems unlikely to leave Barcelona, have been discussed as potential new players to join the team in the coming summer. Both have experience playing for Manchester United’s new manager.
Timber and De Jong are both logical transfer targets for Manchester United, not only because they have great talent and experience while being aged 20 and 25 respectively, but also because they understand what Ten Hag desires from his players. Establishing a new culture is difficult, in any sport, and as Ten Hag begins his tenure in a new league it can, and would, be vital to have members of the squad who already understand the system he plans to put in place.
The rebuild facing Manchester United will extend beyond one summer, but making the right decisions, on the right timeframe, could be the difference between a rebuild that lasts three years instead of five. As a new era begins at Old Trafford, the summer of 2022 could be the one that defines it.
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