Erik ten Hag explains why Man Utd will 'never' be able to play football like his old Ajax side
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In a post-match interview on Sunday afternoon, Erik ten Hag admitted he will "never" be able to bring an Ajax style of play to Manchester United.
Known for implementing a high-pressing style in Amsterdam, the Dutch manager wanted his Ajax team to play on-the-front-foot. Ten Hag not only encouraged playing out from the back, but he wanted his teams to collectively press from the front.
It didn't take long for that philosophy to make its way to United, when their aggression, both in and out of possession, was clear in last season's pre-season campaign, when they recorded an emphatic 4-0 win over Liverpool at the Rajamangala Stadium in Thailand.
But after leading the club to a third place finish last season, Ten Hag's team have lacked identity in recent weeks.
At times, United's typical counter-attacking style has worked but more often than not, they have struggled when it comes to many tactical aspects of the game – as seen throughout their humbling 3-0 defeat to reigning Premier League champions Manchester City on Sunday.
In fact, after the full-time whistle, Ten Hag was asked when he could introduce the so-called Ajax style of play. Speaking to Viaplay, Ten Hag was asked, "When will you be able to play the same football with Manchester United that you showed with Ajax?"
He responded by saying: "Never. We will never play that football. Because those were different players. This is also not why I came here. We are playing different football than I showed at Ajax because I have to, because I can't play the same way."
The 53-year-old added: "The players decide how you play. Ajax has a very typical and characteristic style of play, with Manchester United I will always show different football, I did so last year as well. We play much more direct football here because I have the players for that here."
This is what he said in his first press conference when he was asked a similar question…. Now he’s literally backpedaling and can’t even stand on business loool— Z (@zelLUHG) October 30, 2023
Serial waffler https://t.co/VdXBE0IFBn pic.twitter.com/Wxu0zA1wdl
As you can imagine, Ten Hag's comments have sparked a huge discussion online.
One fan said: "For the life of me, I don’t even know what style of play he’s trying to implement. The brand of football on show this season has been dull and lifeless, far too negative. Worrying times when you read this."
Another commented: "While I get what he means, it does beg the question of why did we bring in a manager for his distinct style of play at Ajax and signed all the players he wants to enable that style of play only for him to go 'Nah can't really play that way, here's something 20 times worse'."
A third added: "Unfortunately that “direct” football will only get you so far, it’s just not sustainable enough for long run success with the current players we have at our disposal. It will only end one way."
Former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam believes Erik ten Hag has struggled to instil a style of play at Old Trafford.
"Myself of course from Holland, we all think about Ten Hag as a very good manager," Stam told BBC's Football Focus.
"He is a great manager. He played very good football with Ajax, possession-based football, on the front foot, keeping possession, dominating, getting players into spaces so they can open up and go forward. We all expect Ten Hag to do that with United as well."
Stam added: "Last season they did well in terms of getting into the Champions League, FA Cup final, [winning the] Carabao Cup, but they didn't play well.
"He [Ten Hag] spent a lot of money, we need to be honest in that: he spent a lot of money getting players in, so you expect more from that. But this season and how they started is not convincing how they play football.
"You want to see United play – I won't say like [Manchester] City – dominating, having the ball, free-flowing, going forwards, taking players on, going past players, getting crosses in, finishing these crosses, winning the second ball and then going again. And that’s not there.
"It’s a bit due to Ten Hag because he needs to make the choices. He has already over a season had time to work with a lot of these players. But I still think he’s a good manager and needs more time to finally get that into his way of playing."
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