After months and months (and months) of speculation, it appears that Erik ten Hag will be appointed as Manchester United’s next permanent manager, taking over from caretaker boss Ralf Rangnick this summer.
The club’s interest in the Ajax coach is logical, as is the intrigue of the fans. A young and dynamic coach who plays football the right directionTen Hag earned his stripes at a great European team and is now ready for one of the biggest jobs in world football.
That can be seen as disrespectful to Ajax and a typical case of relegation from the Premier League pedestal, but it is a similar situation to Jurgen Klopp moving from Borussia Dortmund, a great European team, to Liverpool, a sleeping giant in need of a makeover. The scope of glory with United, as it has proven to be for Klopp at Liverpool, is greater than at Ajax.
But as with Klopp, we don’t know how Ten Hag will adapt to the Premier League. Given the state of United at the moment, failure seems as likely as success. There is uncertainty, but that is part of the draw. Like following a band from no-shows in a seedy suburban pub to a sold-out stadium tour, there’s joy in discovery.
The mystique surrounding his appointment also begs the question of why Mauricio Pochettino, the darling of European football management a couple of years ago, has been easily dismissed and dismissed by so many as a credible option.
Strangely, Pochettino’s Premier League experience with Southampton and Spurs, who he also led to the Champions League final, don’t forget, may actually have played against him.
United would have a better idea of what they would get by naming Poch, but the prospect of getting something better, despite Ten Hag being untried and proven in the ‘top five’ leagues, beckons. His ceiling could be higher, but by that same logic, his lowest point could be lower.
Pochettino remains the man who has never won anything, even though in reality he has not. Paris Saint-Germain won the Coupe de France last season and will win Ligue 1 at a canter this term, but apparently that doesn’t count.
If anything, moving to the French giants has worsened their reputation. Not winning Ligue 1 last season was seen as something of a criminal act, while they were embarrassed by the loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League last month. He is underperforming in Paris. But then all the coaches have: it’s the Champions League or bankruptcy at PSG.
It is not a “serial underperformer” as Jamie Redknapp claimed in sky sports. Pochettino led both Espanyol and Southampton from the bottom half to eighth place and Spurs competed in the Champions League for four straight seasons under his watch, with a campaign ending in final defeat to Liverpool. If anything, he is a serial achiever.
And his time at PSG should not count against him. Could any coach win the Champions League with that team? Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Lionel Messi are a blessing individually but a curse together. They can win you one game at a time, but only if the rest of the team carries them for the rest of the 90 minutes. Defending with just seven outfield players is an incredibly difficult task in the modern game.
United clearly want an inherited manager: a Sir Alex Ferguson; a Jurgen Klopp. But that legacy boss doesn’t have to be brought out of relative obscurity in the same way. Worthwhile risks will always make success a little sweeter, but are United, who would accept success come as it comes, really in a position to take that kind of risk?
Pochettino has been decried as a ‘safe pair of hands’ as if that were a bad thing, but his experience and the stability it offers should be coveted and not deplored at a time when United must get their next fixture right.
Ten Hag might be the best, no doubt about that, but Pochettino is less likely to be the worst.