Erik Ten Hag's Man Utd contract is settled but results will determine his future

“If I move, I want to work for an organisation with a clear philosophy, attainable ambitions and honest people. If I don’t have the right impression, I won’t start on it. The last thing I want is to look over my shoulder to make sure they don’t shoot me in the back.”

That was Erik ten Hag speaking two and half years ago, contemplating what it would take for him to be tempted away from his job at Ajax, only a few months before he was appointed as the new manager of Manchester United.

“If there is a good working climate, fertile soil for development, people I can trust and with whom I have a good feeling, I would consider it,” he said.

Trust is important to Ten Hag. And after United’s end-of-season review advanced as far as discussing salaries with two potential successors, only to then conclude there would not be a change of manager after all, that trust has had to be reaffirmed.

Is a one-year extension of his existing terms until 2026 enough? Arguably, an entirely new contract would have been a greater show of faith. But even Ten Hag must admit that at one point he appeared unlikely to be in the job at the start of the coming season, never mind have his stay extended until the end of the next.

It is not as if any contract extension is a real guarantee of long-term job security at Old Trafford, anyway. Jose Mourinho was dismissed within a year of extending his terms in early 2018. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s three-year renewal would have expired last week had he seen it out. He only lasted another four months.

The wisdom of tying Ten Hag down to an extended deal after presiding over United’s lowest finish of the Premier League era, especially only weeks after giving serious thought to replacing him, will be seriously scrutinised if results and performances do not improve. It would not only call INEOS’ sporting judgment into question, but their financial acumen too.

United paid out £24.6m in exceptional costs the year of Solskjaer’s dismissal and Ralf Rangnick’s interim spell, after shelling out £19.6m to rid themselves of Mourinho three seasons earlier. With INEOS counting every penny in not only the transfer market but their wider restructuring of the club, being forced into a substantial, unplanned payout would be far from ideal.

Neither Ten Hag nor United can therefore afford next season to be more of the same. And so some things are still likely to change, even if the name on the door of the manager’s office hasn’t.

There remains the prospect of Mitchell van der Gaag departing. Were he to leave, United would lose a diligent, hard-working presence around Carrington who was no stranger to early starts and late finishes, an assistant who was often in the building before his manager’s 8am starts.

The 52-year-old is also a polyglot and easily able to communicate across the language barriers within the dressing room but his style of communication has at times led executives to question whether the mood around Carrington could be lifted. Van der Gaag may potentially want to pursue career as a No 1. Benni McCarthy is also leaving after the expiry of his two-year contract and is thought to want to be a manager again.

But in a sign that they do still trust their manager’s judgment, although INEOS initiated this reshuffling of the coaching staff, the likely new additions were selected on Ten Hag’s recommendation.

The arrivals of Ruud van Nistelrooy, the former United great, and Rene Hake, the manager of Go Ahead Eagles remain subject to final agreements and securing work permits.

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Van Nistelrooy is expected to return to Old Trafford where he excelled as a goalscorer (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

It is not the first time that Ten Hag has headhunted Hake, having previously persuaded him to join FC Twente’s academy after forming a bond while coming up against him at Emmen. In 2012, Ten Hag narrowly beat Hake to the Go Ahead job, his first in management. Yet Hake led Go Ahead to their highest league finish in 45 years last season, while also winning the European play-offs.

Van Nistelrooy, who sits eleventh among United’s all-time leading scorers, has been slowly but surely earning his coaching stripes since the end of his playing career more than a decade ago.

His first and only season as a head coach role ended with him winning the KNVB Cup, finishing as Eredivisie runners-up and him leaving PSV Eindhoven under something of a cloud, with reports of tensions between Van Nistelrooy and his assistants Fred Rutten and Andre Ooijer.

PSV’s statement Van Nistelrooy’s departure expressed “regret” at the time, yet explained that in their head coach’s opinion, “there was too little support within the club to continue longer”.

Rutten, incidentally, was one of the first head coaches Ten Hag worked under at the start of his own managerial career and turned down an approach to join United’s staff two years ago. If there were any differences between Van Nistelrooy and Ten Hag’s former mentor, they do not appear to have put the United manager off the appointment.

That Ten Hag has still been able to select his assistants rather than have new hires forced upon him is a sign that INEOS are still willing to place their trust in him. He will still be the manager in name too, as opposed to taking on a ‘head coach’ moniker.

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Hake, who is expected to join as an assistant to Ten Hag, with Arne Slot, now manager of Liverpool (Photo: Rene Nijhuis/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

One of the other key points of contention entering these contract talks regarded Ten Hag’s influence over transfer policy, particularly the veto written into his contract. That remains, as does the recruitment department’s.

Still, there should now be greater balance in transfer policy. While Ten Hag has held a greater sway over transfers than intended since his appointment, it has largely been out of necessity, filling gaps that would not typically be left by a well-functioning football structure.

If his influence is at all diminished from here onwards, that should only be because there are now others above him who have both the courage and authority to say no to a manager and are able to present him with viable alternatives to his suggested targets. In the past, that was not always the case.

There are a lot of issues to address this summer, some ideally before players return to the training at Carrington on Monday, with Mason Greenwood’s future and the Jadon Sancho question unresolved for now. Not to the mention the small matter of no significant ins or outs in the transfer market yet.

At least with Ten Hag’s future settled, and Dan Ashworth now installed as sporting director, the structure is finally in place. Giving Ten Hag the opportunity to prove himself within that rebuilt and reformed structure was a key part of INEOS’ reasoning for eventually deciding to stick and not twist.

After compromises on both sides, this extension provides a platform for the club and their manager to trust each other and build together. But results, above all else, will ultimately dictate how long this new sense of mutual trust lasts, and whether or not Ten Hag feels the need to look over his shoulder.


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