Erik ten Hag believes Manchester United can end the domestic domination of Manchester City and Liverpool under his management.
The Dutchman has begun his first official week in charge of United. Despite Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace consigning them to a new Premier League low of 58 points and sixth place, Ten Hag is confident he can revive United.
It was put to the 52-year-old that there is a view City and Liverpool will remain in the ascendancy until one or both of their managers, Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp, leave their respective club.
Ten Hag said: “I admire them both, Manchester City and Liverpool. They both play really fantastic football. But you will always see that an era can come to an end and I am looking forward to battle with them.” He was pressed if the hegemony can be ended before the managers depart. “I think yeah.”
Despite the low finish Ten Hag suggested the group he takes charge of remains one that can challenge. “The season before, this squad finished second in the league, so it has the potential. I think if we improve, if we can work with them, we can get more out of them than this season,” he said. “First of all, we want to make the fans proud. Second, of course at this moment 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 Theatre of Dreams [Old Trafford]. We want to entertain. In the end, the intention is to play fantastic football. If we can’t play fantastic football, we still have to win.”
David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær are the predecessors of Ten Hag in the nine years since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, who guided United to their last Premier League title.
Ten Hag was asked why he can succeed if this quartet all failed to secure the championship. “The confidence is that I have a good feeling from the people around,” he said. “I have a good feeling from the meetings, we have a plan, and now it’s about getting the plan done, to get it into a process, to cooperate, to be consistent in our plan and when we have good people around, with the right connection and the right commitment and we will achieve the success we want.”
Ten Hag shrugged off the notion that he is putting his reputation in jeopardy by taking on the challenge. “I don’t see it as a risk. This club has a great history and now let’s make a future,” he said. “It will be exciting.”
Ten Hag did concede that he will have to hit the ground running. “What we’re thinking is: ‘This is a project and it takes time.’ But I also know at this club and at other clubs like Ajax and Bayern Munich [where he was second team manager] that at the top there is never time.”
Ten Hag was guarded regarding his strategy for the side. “The plan is huge, and we only have a short time. First of all we will roll it out to the staff, then the players, and then you will see,” he said. “Initial steps – what we are doing first is constructing the staff, constructing the squad and constructing a good pre-season plan, which is what we are now working on. I work with my squad to achieve success and that is what I am looking forward to. We have a strategy, a concept, and we will work on that.
“We [he and his staff] at every club think about: ‘What is in the spirit of the club?’ That is what we want to know, but also that is why they appoint me as manager. I have to bring something to the club, a dynamic. If you want to get to the top, you have to demand, and that is what we are going to do.”
Van Gaal warned his compatriot that he should choose a “football club not a commercial club.” This was a reference to the perception that United’s prime objective is financial and not sporting. Asked about this Ten Hag said: “I have heard that but I will draw my own line. I’m convinced it won’t be the case. I spoke with the directors about – football is one, two, three in this club.”
Ten Hag, who began Monday’s media briefing by shaking the hands of correspondents, was clear about the role of 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo. “Goals. I talk first with Ronaldo before I talk with you,” said the manager.
He will also wait until the first of his players return on 27 June to meet them for the first time. “They need a break to reflect. I will speak with the players at the end of June and in the first week of July,” he said.
United have confirmed Steve McClaren and Mitchell van der Gaag as part of Ten Hag’s coaching staff.