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Who is Erik Ten Hag? Everything you need to know about the Ajax manager linked with Manchester United

Erik ten Hag
(Image credit: PA)

"Who is Erik Ten Hag?" we ask ourselves every six weeks or so, vaguely aware of the name whenever a Premier League manager is sacked (which is quite regularly, right now). And no - he isn't the successor to Erik Nine Hag, before you make the joke.

Ajax boss Ten Hag has risen to become one of the most respected managers in the world over the last few years. He's best remembered for that 2019 Champions League run with the Amsterdam outfit, beating Juventus and Real Madrid en route to a European semi-final - and he would've maybe gotten to Madrid, were it not for that meddling Lucas Moura.

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The Dutchman has a pretty impressive CV though, regardless of that adventure. Is he due a bigger challenge?

What is Erik Ten Hag's coaching history?

Ten Hag first took charge of Go Ahead Eagles, appointed by Marc Overmars, who has shares in the club. He then moved to Bayern II and worked in Bavaria while Pep Guardiola was in charge of the first team.

But while lots of former coaches of youth teams can look back to their players back then and point at half a dozen who made it... Ten Hag's fruits of that particular labour are little more scarce. He managed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Julian Green, too (remember him?). Aside from that, it's scant.

In 2015, he moved to Utrecht, where he developed his own style a little more. It was there that he first worked with Sebastien Haller, making the ex-West Ham forward's move to Ajax seeming a little less random, now. He won the Rinus Michels Award in 2016 and after Ajax lost the 2017 Europa League final to Manchester United, then-manager Peter Bosz moved to Borussia Dortmund.

Ten Hag didn't secure the gig right away, though. Marcel Keizer stepped up from the Ajax Jong side but didn't last until Christmas - and that was when the incumbent man stepped in. There, he's won two Eredivisie titles. 

What is Erik Ten Hag's philosophy?

Ten Hag is a possession-based manager, influenced by Pep Guardiola's positional play. He's also very keen on pressing from the front - such is his German influence - while he's been noted for his tactical flexibility to utilise either a false nine up front in Dusan Tadic or a more conventional figure in Haller. 

“I learned a lot from Guardiola,” Ten Hag said in February 2019. “His philosophy is sensational, what he did in Barcelona, Bayern and now with Manchester City, that attacking and attractive style sees him win a lot. It’s this structure that I’ve tried to implement with Ajax.”

There's a clear influence of Johan Cruyff from a man who is now managing Ajax, while his players have mentioned how Ten Hag demands that his team constantly attack. 

Ajax play in a 4-3-3 and very rarely deviate from that shape, with overlapping full-backs, wingers who cut inside and a clear, flat midfield structure.

What are Erik Ten Hag's strengths and weaknesses?

A man that has been called "kind" by his former Bayern bosses, there's the impression that Ten Hag is not a big disciplinarian and prefers to inspire his players rather than strike fear into them. 

"I was lucky to meet him at Bayern and he was an assistant from the second team. We had a lot of chats," Pep Guardiola said of Ten Hag, who he reportedly endorsed for the Barcelona job later, too. 

But while everyone speaks well of Ten Hag and his football is exciting and progressive, there are still question marks over his suitability at a bigger club. The 51-year-old is still young for a manager - but hasn't managed big egos in his career yet or had the expectation of coaching a superclub in an ultra-competitive league. 

There are those that wonder whether the Dutchman's football could be a little naive without the right set of players and that Ten Hag may need a stepping stone to bridge him before taking one of the biggest jobs in European football. It does seem ludicrous though, that almost three seasons on from that madcap Champions League season, no one's taken a punt on him...

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