The new Klopp? Why Manchester United chose Ten Hag over Pochettino

This is the bet by appointing Erik ten Hag, a man who has so many unknowns, especially compared to Mauricio Pochettino. But that’s also the attraction.

Pochettino has proven himself in the Premier League, but he was also proven to have failed to win the title in a two-horse run with Leicester.

He was proven unable to stop Tottenham’s alarming slide which ultimately cost him his job. This is, of course, a very simplistic assessment of his time in England.

He has also been proven to have managed his transition to this country by making Southampton one of the most watchable sides in the top flight.

He proved he nurtured individual talent at Spurs, regularly competing at the top of the table and reaching the Champions League final in 2019 – famously at the expense of Ten Hag’s Ajax. If he stays the course at Paris Saint-Germain this season, he will win the title.

Yet Ten Hag has emerged from a series of talks as the United man wants to lead them into a new era. And despite all the due diligence of director of football John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher, it may be the mystery surrounding the Dutchman that gives him the edge.

United cannot know if they will be able to adapt to the Premier League after a career in the Netherlands and Germany. They cannot know if he can manage a club of such stature that even heavyweights like Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have been swallowed up in expectation.

They can’t know how he’ll handle egos in a dressing room full of fabulously rich young men, or how those players will react to him.

He’s not the safe option, but feels like the populist option, given the clamor on social media to declare him the next big thing. That’s what new CEO Richard Arnold is banking on.

Ajax boss Erik ten Hag set to become Manchester United’s next permanent manager

/ AFP via Getty Images

His predecessor Ed Woodward spent most of his reign regretting his failure to lure Klopp to United, his ‘adult Disneyland’ pitch now becoming legend.

He saw the Germans do at Liverpool what a succession of managers failed to replicate at Old Trafford, waking them from their slumber and turning them into a super power.

Even now, Klopp is the most perfect choice for United in terms of personality, leadership and his brand of football. Even more than Pep Guardiola.

Klopp just gets it – and, the uncomfortable truth is, he probably got precisely what United was by rejecting Woodward’s advances.

Can Ten Hag be Klopp to score two? This is the bet made by Arnold, Murtough and Fletcher. For starters, football is right.

It’s about risk, relentless attacking and bravery on the ball. He is proactive in the form of a Klopp or a Guardiola, rather than reactive like a Mourinho.

It’s from the dominant possession school – as you’d expect from a Dutchman – but not the kind of risk-averse pricing that so discouraged United fans during Van Gaal’s reign.

Ten Hag gives freedom to his most exciting talents to show off their skills. Jadon Sancho should be a big beneficiary and Marcus Rashford could find himself under a coach who will nurture his attacking qualities, which have been lost over the past 18 months.

Ten Hag was preferred by the United hierarchy over long-term target Mauricio Pochettino

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Hakim Ziyech and Donny van de Beek are two players who have failed to replicate the form they have shown under Ten Hag since leaving Ajax. Van de Beek will welcome his arrival at Old Trafford having been incredibly underutilized since joining United.

Ten Hag has taken the fans with him on his trip to Ajax and United need a ringmaster at Old Trafford who they can really support.

Their fans are good at supporting their managers, even if they have been tested by the light mush offered after Sir Alex Ferguson.

Van Gaal and Mourinho tried to re-educate them on what they should expect as supporters of the biggest club in the country.

Neither could make a particularly compelling case – Mourinho snarling and Van Gaal never quite having a sense of the danger that brings them back to Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did – and arguably provided supporters with more memorable moments than those two predecessors put together – but lacked the coaching or managerial qualities to deliver trophies.

Ten Hag is a proven winner in the Netherlands, but that record comes with a ‘but’ for that very reason. Ajax are the biggest and the richest, so success goes hand in hand. That’s why this Champions League journey is so instructive.

Ten Hag drew favorable comparisons with his Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp

/ AFP via Getty Images

The irony, of course, is that Pochettino’s Tottenham reached the final at the expense of Ajax. What is the greatest achievement?

Pochettino plays progressive and aggressive football. Ask Spurs fans if he has the charisma for people to follow him.

It’s hard to think of a Ten Hag box that the Argentine doesn’t tick. Well, that is, all but one – the element of the unknown.


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