Erik ten Hag told Manchester United he believes the job is a five-year project during his interview for the permanent manager’s role, and that the first element he would correct is physical conditioning.
The Ajax coach was one of the first to sit down with the club’s football staff in the search for a new manager, but it is understood he did not make a 100 per cent cast-iron case for his appointment.
While Ten Hag is still seen as the favourite, such an impression echoes the views of the Tottenham Hotspur hierarchy last summer. They did not feel Ten Hag was particularly charismatic, certainly compared to another candidate in Mauricio Pochettino.
United are also conscious of the mixed record of figures adapting from the Eredivisie, and the split within their own playing squad over the manager’s credentials. Ten Hag, in the words of more than one source, “has not blown people away”.
Whether Ten Hag would keep some of those players is another issue. The 52-year-old put together a comprehensive dossier on the squad, where he argued United have been some way off “Champions League shape” in some time, with particular attention paid to fitness. He also named possible transfer targets, with some of those known to include Ajax players.
United have insisted they would do more diligence on signings from the Dutch league, after the struggles of Donny van de Beek and Memphis Depay.
Informing the decision could well be simple finance. While a package for Ten Hag could cost less than £4m, with Ajax willing to let him go, United may have to pay up to £25m to get Pochettino.
That is complicated by the labyrinthine politics around Paris Saint-Germain. While they have been considering replacing Pochettino, especially after this season’s Champions League debacle, change above him is more likely. Leonardo, the French club’s sporting director, is almost certain to be replaced as director of football.
PSG are also very conscious of being seen to be “bullied” out of a manager, as they try and consolidate their position at the top of Europe’s food chain.
Pochettino is greatly admired by some of the United hierarchy but, as with Ten Hag, that is far from unanimous. The feeling remains there isn’t the 100 per cent obvious choice. “It is not a Pep Guardiola to Manchester City situation,” in the words of one source.
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