Ten Hag 'takes charge' of Man Utd U21s to enhance transition

Ten Hag was manager of Ajax for five years before taking charge of Manchester United at the start of 2022/23

Ten Hag was manager of Ajax for five years before taking charge of Manchester United at the start of 2022/23

ERIK TEN HAG has said that “final responsibility” for Manchester United’s Under-21s “lies with me” and that “this is totally new” for the club.

United’s U21s Lead is Mark Dempsey, assisted by Paul McShane, while Travis Binnion takes charge of the side in the EFL Trophy.

Speaking to Voetbal International before Christmas, Ten Hag said that taking charge of the U21s had been something he insisted upon when he first held talks with the club about becoming manager.

“For me, co-operation between all the different departments is crucial to get the right culture in a club,” the Dutchman said. “Like at Ajax, when I entered Manchester United the reserve team was isolated.

“It was no longer really part of the Academy, but it wasn’t part of the first team either. I changed that immediately - just as I did when I entered Amsterdam.

“At Ajax, the reserve team came under the responsibility of the manager. That was the only way I could have influence on the flow of young, talented players towards the first team.

“Of course I still give the coaches freedom to work, but I also give them direction, by saying for example, ‘I want that player to start making minutes in that position.’

“So the final responsibility lies with me about how the second team performs and the flow of players that goes from the reserve team to the first team. This is totally new for the people at Manchester United, but I had already discussed it during the introductory talks with the club management.

“They were immediately open to it. They looked at Ajax with admiration because of how the club always manages to get youth players successfully through the system.

“There is a constant influx of talents at Ajax and I explained that’s because the basis of everything at the club is the youth Academy. When I was going home from my work at Ajax in the evening, I would often see the Under-8s or Under-9s training and I would stay to watch.

“In the final phase of a player’s Academy years and the step up to the first team, it is all about the structure between the Academy Director, the reserve-team coach and the manager. This is what I mean when I talk about co-operation.

“I talked to (Football Director) John Murtough about this at length before I came to Manchester and he set it up in such a way that I can work this way here too.

“In the Netherlands, I had made the step towards taking more of a managerial role at Ajax. If you don't have competent people around you, you can't delegate and you're going to do it all yourself anyway.

“But if you do have competent people, you have to bring them into your vision and then you can delegate tasks. An example is the training process with the senior team. I know this is in good hands with (coach) Mitchell van der Gaag.

“Because he is at the training sessions, I can often take an overview view. Then, as a manager, you see a lot more than if you are working on the training exercises yourself.”

This might not be as revolutionary as Ten Hag has suggested, however. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer there was a close link-up between the first team and U23s, as they were then.

The Norwegian also regularly visited the Academy to watch both training and matches. So too did the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, as former first-team coach Rene Meulensteen remembered.

“He came to Littleton road, to the Cliff, a number of times, to see what we were doing and the environment we were trying to create,” Meulensteen told TGG. “The moment he showed his support for that programme it takes a lot of doubters away.”

United have also had a fine record of progressing players from the Academy to the first team, with a homegrown player having featured in every United matchday squad since October 1937.

The club have also topped every edition of TGG’s Academy Productivity Rankings bar one (for 2021/22, when they were second).

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