Manchester United’s new first team manager Erik ten Hag has decisions to make on several high-profile stars, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s future remaining a source of debate
The 52-year-old has been in the United Kingdom since the start of the week, flying over from Amsterdam at the conclusion of Ajax’s successful Eredivisie season. And although he won’t officially take charge until next week, he is already running a rule over his new charges.
Ten Hag inherits a team coming off the back of their worst ever Premier League season, with a summer of high turnover and revolution anticipated. Several out of contract stars are set to move on, including the likes of Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba.
Then there are question marks over several senior players, with Ten Hag planning to hold one-on-one chats with every contracted player in the weeks and months to come. As he does so often, Ronaldo is at the centre of much debate, where despite being the Red Devils’ top scorer, there have been question marks over his long-term suitability to Ten Hag’s high-pressing style.
The 37-year-old signed a two-year contract when joining from Juventus, while United have the option to extend that until 2024 should they wish. And Ten Hag looks set to include him in his rebuild, labelling the Portuguese icon a “true winner and a magnificent player.”
In an emotional interview with his former club, the departing Ajax boss looked back on his four-and-a-half-year stint in the Dutch capital and some of the most poignant moments of his tenure. One such moment was a snap of Ten Hag talking to Ronaldo, whilst he was at Juventus, following a Champions League tie back in 2019.
“That was an interesting chat,” Ten Hag told Ajax’s media team. “I think he could appreciate the way we played. He’s a true winner and a magnificent player. I can’t wait to work with him.” Asked if he could recall the conversation, the Dutchman added: “I think it was about a decision the referee made that went our way. I made a joke about it.”
In a wide ranging interview, Ten Hag opened up on the blueprint which saw Ajax return to prominence in the Champions League, something which he will be expected to do in his new role.
“We’ve set a standard, the bar is high and we’ve made progress,” he explained. “The ambition and objective was to make Ajax Europe-proof again. That was my objective and the one imposed on me by the club’s management.
“We started working on that by changing the culture, we added structure to the way we play, with the playing style as the foundation. We enforced it every day by demanding the most from everyone and we made progress and became Europe-proof. But we were more than that, we’ve made the knock-out stage twice.”
The new first team manager will be in attendance for the final game of United’s miserable season, knowing that defeat at Crystal Palace could see them slip into the Europa Conference League. Regardless, his immediate aim is to get United back into Europe’s top competition, where he will have the chance to lock horns with Ajax yet again.
“On those (Champions League) nights, I’ll be an Ajax fan and root for them. I would’ve liked to be active myself, but sadly that’s not the case,” reassured that will come later, Ten Hag said: “That’s a must. The goal is to make Manchester United Europe-proof again, like we did with Ajax, reaching the Champions League with Manchester United is a prerequisite.”