Erik ten Hag, the Ajax coach destined for Manchester United, has a reputation as a control freak. He analyzes opponents from head to toe, even if he has already played against them twice in the season. He sends his players video clips of his opponents, provides advice and is in constant conversation with them, even about which newspapers should be read or at what time they should be in bed.
He imposes strict rules. When he began his coaching career at the youth level, Ten Hag immediately shortened the holidays for his students: someone who dared to return too late had a problem.
But the lines of communication remain open, including those players considered “difficult”, such as Eljero Elia, Marko Arnautovic and Hakim Ziyech. He spends an infinite amount of time with them, immerses himself in their culture, and continues to send encouraging messages after their paths are divided. But there are no exceptions, no privileges for anyone.
If there are tight stretches off the field, though, there’s plenty of room for creativity on this one. Noussair, Ajax right back Mazraoui regularly appears in the position of central striker, left back Daley Blind is a fake 10 and right Steven Berghuis was transformed into an all-rounder in midfield. Central defender Jurriën Timber and goalkeeper André Onana easily cut his opponent.
But the distance between the players must be accurate to the millimeter when they lose the ball. The defense and midfield should be almost able to hear each other and the attackers are leading the way to pick up the ball, even if it is the second Champions League scorer this season, Sébastien Haller, Serbia captain Dusan Tadic, or the Brazilian international. Anthony.
Ten Hag, 52, lives for football like a monk, not an ounce of fat on his body, dimples in his cheeks. His wife and children live two hours’ drive from Amsterdam, in the Twente region in the east of the Netherlands where they have their roots. Only on rest days does he travel home. Along the way, he calls friends, but the conversation rarely gets out of hand. “This boss is always full of football,” says his childhood friend Leon ten Voorde.
Ten Voorde has known Ten Hag since he was four years old. They went to school together in Haaksbergen, played football together at the local amateur club, Bon Boys, and were altar boys at the same time. “I was better at the latter, Erik at a lot of other things, I have to admit,” says Ten Voorde.
They were competitive. Ten Voorde describes riding a horse in Ten Hag when he was threatened with winning a cycling race and broke his arm. No hard feelings. In the evening they went together to watch Twente, the great club in their region. In stark contrast to his adulthood, young Ten Hag did not take personal discipline seriously. He was often late for appointments, was extroverted and sociable, says Ten Voorde. But he took football very seriously, especially when he became a professional.
The lack of speed has made the job stronger, smarter and more aware of the importance of teamwork. Ten Voorde says: “At the time, you could already see a coach in him, he was always a captain. When we saw football at a young age, he always knew what was going to happen. He always maintained that attitude of knowing everything. “When we discuss with friends who the most talented tennis player is, they all say Federer, but you already know what Erik is going to say to Nadal. The annoying thing is that he can even stand up well.”
He is loyal to his old friends, even from his rise as Aiax coach: every Sunday night he asks them how he did Bon Boys. With a win, he sends an applause-emoticon, after a loss: “How could that happen?”
In the urban west of the Netherlands there is long skepticism about the coach coming from a small country in the rural east, and he has played only eight games in the Uefa Cup; who was an assistant for a long time and then made notable career leaps as head coach. With Deventer’s Go Ahead the Eagles won promotion to the first flight but left to coach Bayern Munich’s second team. “Erik always looked to other kitchens to see how they worked,” says Ten Voorde, “and then he created his own vision.”
They also benefited from that vision in Utrecht. Ten Hag has drastically reformed the club which finished 11th in the Eredivisie the season before his arrival and recorded the fifth and fourth place under him before joining Ajax at the end of 2017.
Rick Kruys is currently the coach of the Utrecht goalkeeper and was an assistant to Ten Hag. “A world has opened up for me,” he says. “What he does is very complex, but also super cool. I’ve started to look at football in a very different way.”
In Utrecht, Ten Hag came to the front of the camera for the first time each week. His nervous facial expression, the interviewer’s suspicion, his attitude of knowing everything and his rigid way of speaking often in a hoarse voice made him the miracle of ridicule. He never wanted to do middle school. It could be seen as a weakness in England, because their English improving is not good. An interview with the Italian channel Sky Sports before a match against Roma went viral. Its “It’s fantastic how [Italians] decreases football ”the soundbite has been haunting him for a long time.
Former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal highly values Ten Hag, but has advised him not to move to Old Trafford if he has been formally offered the job because he is “a business club”. It seemed like an insult from Van Gaal to his old bosses, but one might wonder if Ten Hag is sympathetic enough to a club as conscious as United.
All indications are that United will be favored not by his image, but by his stunning results with Ajax, especially the dream Champions League campaign in 2019, when Real Madrid and Juventus were beaten in an impressive style and only Tottenham blocked the road from Ajax to Ajax. final in the last second. In the Eredivisie, he is looking for a second league title in a row and a third in four seasons.
United also listened to those who worked with him. They praise Ten Hag for his clarity, honesty, involvement and loyalty. Den Haag winger Elijah says he would never have played in the 2010 World Cup final for the Netherlands if he had not worked as a young player with Ten Hag and another coach, Fred Rutten. to Twente, adding: “And I probably would have had a better career if I had worked with Erik later.”
Elijah, who has played for Werder Bremen, Juventus, Southampton and Feyenoord, says: “He’s always been involved with me, anyway. Not only as a footballer, he was also in control of my private life, he wanted me to develop. as a person, to read the newspapers and to watch the news.After refueling my car once during the night, Erik asked the next day why it was so late.Not like a police officer, but more like ‘and your favorite teacher who cared a lot.
While his teammates had to train once a day, youngsters Arnautovic and Elia had to train three times at Twente. “In the end, we often played volleyball on foot against Ten Hag and Rutten. We had a better technique, it was fitter, but sometimes they won. They were more focused, they collaborated better, they played more effectively and they had more. willingness to win, they explained.
The two then keep in touch, even if their backgrounds and off-field interests are completely different. Elijah, now 35, works on a rap album and a clothing line and changes his hair almost every month; the most eccentric thing about Ten Hag is its peak. Wealth accumulation or adulation in the media are not Ten Hag’s concerns. He must have a “click,” like Marc Overmars [formerly director of football] at Ajax, “believes Ten Voorde.” Someone with whom he can fully implement his vision. “Elijah adds: I hope he gets the time as well [Ole Gunnar] Sunshine did. “
It looks like United will have to provide some guarantees to Ten Hag before signing. The Ajax coach is too praiseworthy and wanted the international to give him control easily.
For Elijah, it is clear that Ten Hag has overtaken the Netherlands, indicating growing criticism of his expressive behavior on the lines and for his views directed at the media when he suspects that one of his players is being harmed. “Every first coach does it because they want to win and protect their players. As a coach, you also have to be a little irritating. Erik really has the complete package now.”