Tribal Football

Ten Hag strengthens hold at Man Utd: Now it all depends on Ashworth...

Ten Hag strengthens hold at Man Utd: Now it all depends on Ashworth...
Ten Hag strengthens hold at Man Utd: Now it all depends on Ashworth...
Ten Hag strengthens hold at Man Utd: Now it all depends on Ashworth... Action Plus
COMMENT: He had his deal. He had his staff. But it was that final piece in negotiations that has confirmed Erik ten Hag as not only Manchester United's manager for the new season - but also Ineos'...

They're still at it. Though this column this just doesn't see it. The opinion drivers are still claiming Ten Hag is a dead man walking. That this new contract. The new staff. It's all being put in place to undermine - and eventually replace - the Dutchman. But for this column, such claims make little sense. Indeed, for all our criticism of Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos' actions these past six months, the way they've rallied around their manager has been an eye-opener.


As we discussed last week, Ten Hag has been given full backing to bring in his own staff. His old youth coach at Twente, Rene Hake, will arrive from Go Ahead Eagles. The former PSV coach and United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy will do the same after being convinced by Ten Hag after lengthy phone calls. And there's a new goalkeeper coach - another Dutchman - in Jelle ten Rouwelaar, who is due to arrive from Ajax. All countrymen. All Ten Hag choices. Men to solidify and strengthen the support around the manager - not undermine it. 

And after this week's news, we can go further. It's now emerging that Ten Hag will have final veto on who stays and who is sold from his senior squad. Dan Ashworth is now in place. But it's becoming clear he and Jason Wilcox are there to support the manager, not rail against him. In the grand management plan, it's Ten Hag who sits at the top of the pyramid. 

Need proof? Well, beyond United's discussions with Matthijs de Ligt about leaving Bayern Munich, we also have it breaking today that Josh Zirkzee is a step away from completing a move. Italian sources stating the Holland striker has agreed personal terms with United, which have in turn informed Bologna they intend to trigger his €40m buyout clause. A deal driven by Ten Hag, with those same sources stating United's manager has been in "almost daily contact" with the centre-forward about a move to England. Much like his pursuit of Wout Weghorst some 18 months ago, Ten Hag has taken on the task personally - and with the support of those around him - appears to have burned off competition from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and AC Milan to secure his countryman's commitment.

Of course, like with De Ligt, nothing is yet over the line. But if Ashworth can get it done, it's a deal which will have Ten Hag's fingerprints all over it.

So again, if this is Ineos trying some type of passive-aggressive act of sabotage, we just don't see it. Indeed, it appears the opposite. If they're in, they're all in. And to be fair, if everything that is being put in place actually lands, then Ten Hag really cannot have any excuses going into the new season.

Again, as we stated last week - United, with this board, are acting in the traditions of it's past. Whether it's Ratcliffe, Ian Brailsford or Jean-Claude Blanc, the drive from the top does evoke a new type of energy coming out of the place. No half-measures. No soft compromises. Things are shifting in the right direction.

The onus now is on Ashworth. The in-tray is piling up. Deals for Hake, Van Nistelrooy and Ten Rouwelaar must be settled. Agreements with Bayern Munich and Bologna for De Ligt and Zirkzee must be reached. United's new football director has it all to prove. And it won't end there.

There also remains Ten Hag's wish for a new, defensive midfielder and the need for a left-back solution. Like with the Dutch pair, these positions won't be filled with stop-gaps, but by 8-10 year propositions. The focus will be on Ashworth to get these decisions right. He's now swimming in unchartered waters. He's not buying for Reading or West Brom - nor even Newcastle. The pressure. The demands. The requirement of a successful Manchester United signing is on another level entirely. And as we say, it's at a place in the transfer market that Ashworth has never worked before.

Certainly, it will be worth comparing Ashworth with his successor at Newcastle, Paul Mitchell. Indeed, it can be argued that Newcastle have come out the better of whole affair. Where Ashworth's background is, as mentioned, Reading, WBA and the FA, Mitchell has a record of landing signings for the likes of Tottenham and AS Monaco. It will be worth monitoring how the two perform over the coming transfer windows.

But beyond such doubts, United look stronger than they did a month ago. More unified. With a board willing to match and back the manager's ambitions. Now it's just down to the new football director to close these deals as they arrive.