Erik ten Hag is three weeks into his first pre-season as Manchester United’s manager and has led them to wins over Liverpool and Melbourne Victory on the summer tour of Thailand and Australia. Prior to Tuesday’s meeting with Crystal Palace at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Dutchman sat down to discuss Cristiano Ronaldo’s future, why Harry Maguire must prove himself, his occasional tea-cup throwing, and other issues.
Cristiano [Ronaldo], who wishes to leave the club, has a year left on his contract. How difficult is it to accommodate him when, if he stays, this will only be for one more season?
Ten Hag “I am well informed – he also has an option [for a further season].”
So he could stay beyond this season?
TH “Yes. Of course I have signed here for three years, but in football it’s short-term as well. We have to win from the start. So I don’t look that far ahead. I have a strategy, it’s a process, it takes time, but we have to make sure from the outset there is a winning team.”
Ronaldo is not on tour due to a family situation. Have you spoken to him while out here?
TH “The same status as last week in Bangkok [he has not]. No change.”
Cristiano hasn’t done a pre-season. Are you planning to start the season without him so he can catch up?
TH “I think so but he is training. We all know Ronaldo is a top professional and will be fit, that is the last concern I have.”
Can he play regularly at 37 for a Ten Hag team that likes to press from the front at the age of 37?
TH “Cristiano is capable of doing that. In his career he has shown everything.”
He won’t slow you down?
TH “I have set my demand. We want to play in a certain way. A top player can contribute and Ronaldo is an absolute top player in our squad.”
Will Ronaldo return to training at Carrington [United’s training ground] next week?
TH “I cannot tell you. Not yet.”
To get the best from Ronaldo you maybe need two up front. Would you accommodate this or will you not change your usual 4-3-3?
TH “The players dictate the way you play. Especially players who score goals because they are extremely important for a team. You construct your team around them.”
You wish to sign Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong?
TH “We are looking for a player who can play in the holding [deep-lying] midfield position. There are not many in that position capable of the level we demand. When we can’t find him, we have to deal with the players in our squad now and we will develop one in that position.”
If you can’t sign De Jong this summer would you prefer to wait to sign him?
TH “I will not react on a certain player. We have a list. We will strike the moment the player is available.”
Has there been any debate about keeping Harry Maguire as captain – was there a thought to ask the players to vote on the captaincy?
TH “No, I always see the captaincy as an issue I dictate. Team building is important and I always talk about a group of leaders. The captain is a really important one and I’m happy with him.”
The captain normally plays, so you must think Maguire will be a first-choice?
TH “He is. He’s proved it in the past but he has also to prove it in the present time and in the future. He has played 60 [sic 46] times for England. Harry is really impressive and I expect a lot from him. But there is also internal competition and that is what a club like Man United needs. You cannot win with 11 players. We need a squad, especially this season with so many games.”
Harry had a difficult season. Do you hope that keeping him as captain will give him more confidence?
TH “It can help. I will support him everywhere I can. In the end he has to do it by himself, and he has the qualities to do it.”
He lacks pace. Can he operate in a high line?
TH “I think so. We have good centre-halves and Harry is one of them. He can play on the left side and on the right because he is a right-footed centre-half.”
The club has announced an agreement with Ajax to sign Lisandro Martínez. Why do you want him?
TH “I analysed United last year in the left part of the defence – they could be weak. He is left-footed. And he also brings a South American spirit: aggressiveness, control, he can bring this to the team.”
Martínez isn’t the tallest centre-back at 5ft 9in; is that an issue for him in English football?
TH: “He’s not the tallest but is quite good in the air. Of course, you need the right balance. He has good timing, that’s one of his capabilities.”
You’ve signed Tyrell Malacia and Martínez [imminently] from the Netherlands, and Christian Eriksen has played for Ajax: is there a strategy behind recruiting footballers who have played in your homeland?
TH “I would like to sign English players because there is only one criteria and that’s quality in combination with the price. English players are quite expensive.”
United finished sixth last season. Is it too early to talk about a title challenge?
TH “The first target is to win every game, that has to be our approach, that belongs to Man Utd.”
How big a challenge is the job?
TH “It is a pleasure. I know it’s not an easy job but that gives me some joy, energy.”
Do you want players showing joy?
TH “Yes, sure. That brings motivation when you have joy.”
Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s last title win in 2013, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær have all failed to make United challengers. What makes you confident?
TH “I have a strong belief. This is a big challenge but until now everywhere I’ve been I’ve got the maximum out of my teams, and this is the project that is the most difficult. I am here so I am convinced I can do it.”
Does the players’ confidence need lifting?
TH “Yes. You can see that it affects them [last season]. We have to cheer them up and motivate them. We are trying to bring the confidence back.”
Ralf Rangnick, the interim manager before your appointment, stated two or three transfer windows are required to catch Manchester City and Liverpool. Do you agree?
TH “I will not make such a statement. I want to get the maximum out of the players who are here but it belongs to Manchester that you are always looking for better – for competition, because that is a tool to lift them.”
Will your Manchester United be like any of your Ajax teams?
TH “Our team will be different because it has different players.”
Are you the type of manager who will “throw a tea cup” if needed?
TH “It is a tool that a coach has. Most of the time I will use normal behaviour. But sometimes you have to use all the set of tools you have. [But] I don’t need the hairdryer.”
You look like you’ve already instilled a bit of fear into players?
TH “When there is no discipline you will not find it on the pitch as well. Such issues I’m quite severe on. It is on the players to also be severe to each other, because if they want to achieve success they have to stick together. Sometimes there is a need for correction.”
July 19, 2022 at 05:42AM Jamie Jackson in Melbourne