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Man Utd & Erik ten Hag: Media clashes; fierce player loyalty - is this the new Fergie?

COMMENT: Erik ten Hag and Manchester United? This actually could be fun. The football? Well, that's one thing. But off the pitch. In the press. Ten Hag will make things lively...

So he's now favourite. Or so they say. At least, he's the favourite for certain sections of the local press. The interview process is ongoing. Ten Hag, with his Ajax top of the Eredivisie table and into the Dutch Cup final, has held two rounds of talks with United directors. Mauricio Pochettino, the unsettled PSG coach, met with United last week. And while the momentum - at least publicly - is with Ten Hag, more candidates are scheduled to speak with United in the coming days.

But as we say, the momentum, the hype, is with Ten Hag. For this column, the move is a risk. But then again, nothing is rock solid when it comes to today's Manchester United. But beyond whether his football can translate from games against Cambuur to Liverpool and Manchester City. Or if his philosophy will be in sync with the footballing traditions of the United Way. Beyond all that, the real test for Ten Hag will be of his personality and mental strength.

The outside stuff a manager can handle. But what we've seen develop inside and around this club makes the '90's media Boot Room that Liverpool managers encountered appear a doddle. These United exes will turn on you in a flash. And when they don't, as Roy Keane experienced when trying to bring reason to the criticism of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they're accused of bias - no matter how lucid their argument.

But the pressure is generated way beyond any gaggle of pundits. It also comes from within. There's the leaks. The undermining from upstairs. And the lack of public support when things go wrong. Even Ralf Rangnick is discovering that. The German finding himself the sole voice for the biggest club in the world. A manager can handle it when things are going well and the questions reflect that. But as we see today, the demands are very different when United are on the downturn.

Which is a similar sentiment for this dressing room. Win and win regularly and the place is watertight. But stumble. Slip. And the place leaks like a sieve. Just consider the Ted Lasso swipe thrown at Chris Armas. Vipers and nest come to mind.

And then there's the top brass. A manager may not want a player. He may want to withdraw him for a few games as a disciplinary measure. But as we've seen with the likes of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard. All that can be undermined with board room chat about new contracts and pay-rises making it's way to the back-pages. And after just four months, all such issues have smacked Rangnick clean in the face.


Antony celebrates scoring against Feyenoord

Does Ten Hag have it in him to handle such a maelstrom? That, beyond systems and style, is the key question as to whether this potential appointment will be a success.

What we can say is the Dutchman does show some characteristics reminiscent of a certain Sir Alex Ferguson. A fierce, incredible loyalty to his players. An even more fierce and combustible attitude towards the media. In the English press, we're getting all the generic flowery talk about of play and management of young players. But dig a little deeper - indeed you only have to look back these past three months - and you can recognise a fair bit of old Fergie in Ten Hag.

Dutch pundit Hugo Borst has accused Ten Hag of being the chief instigator in undermining the local media, "Ten Hag frames journalists. That is bad, frivolous and dangerous. He is partly responsible for a breeding ground that journalists are not believed. With all the consequences that entails..."

Ten Hag's crime? The Ajax coach refused to declare his former player Quincy Promes, now of Spartak Moscow, guilty of attempted murder with the case still open. Ten Hag also upset local reporters for failing to condemn his veteran Dusan Tadic, after the former Southampton attacker refused to comment on the scandal around the now ex-sporting director Marc Overmars.

Borst again: "He's hardening the journalistic environment... Does he think about this unfortunate development?"

But it's not just the local scribes whom Ten Hag refuses to play nice with. The former Bayern Munich reserves boss also taking a dig at the personality of the general Dutch footballer. His exchange with another reporter about the recent dismissal of Brazilian striker Antony not only annoying football insiders, but surely the manner it was made also upsetting the likes of Borst.

Victory against Feyenoord this month saw Antony not only grab the winner, but also dismissed after a first yellow card for celebrating with his shirt off, then another for time-wasting. For this column, Ten Hag's response was enjoyable.

"Whether I was annoyed? I think you were, otherwise you wouldn't ask the question," he began. "I think: if only we had a little more of that temperament in the Netherlands!

"Taking off your shirt, that's not possible, that's undisciplined. That costs him the match in Groningen, but the temperament he brings also has a return."

Loyalty. Passion. And with little regard for those who ask the questions. If it is to be Erik ten Hag and Manchester United next season, this actually could be fun.

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Chris Beattie
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