There will be many hoping for a Dutch revolution at Old Trafford under Erik ten Hag but they will require patience because Manchester United need to accept an evolutionary process is the only answer. There is no chance of a quick fix given the number of issues that need addressing.
Whenever a manager arrives expectations naturally rise but it will be important for United fans to limit theirs for this season. Last season showed how far behind Manchester City and Liverpool they are and trying to get to their level will take time. United have to embrace the journey they need to go on.
Many are used to the United of old, the team that dominated the Premier League and challenged for the Champions League with a swagger. That team is long gone and a new one has to be built if they are to dream of those successes once more. They do, however, need some short-term ambitions to help them achieve the long-term ones.
Ten Hag will have been keen to implement his style during pre-season. He has arrived at a good time in a summer without a men’s tournament, meaning no one was playing until the second week of July and then having to take a break. Ten Hag will have banked on someone such as Raphaël Varane having a good, strong pre-season to reach the level required and settle into the system after the defender was in and out of the team and had some injuries in the last campaign.
He will have been identified as integral in a youthful side thanks to his experience. There will be higher hopes, too, for Jadon Sancho, who struggled after the Euros.
This summer’s episode with Cristiano Ronaldo can’t have helped Ten Hag because it will have sent a message throughout the club. It shone a spotlight on the club’s failure to get signings done early because they were struggling to attract the players required.
A notable focus for new arrivals has been players Ten Hag knows well from the Netherlands or has worked with at Ajax. It is a really smart thing to do. They understand his philosophy and he can also influence the culture in the dressing room through them setting the standard. He is not the first manager to bring in players who know how to execute the gameplan, and it can help speed up the long-term process. Building a culture within the club from Ten Hag down through the squad will be imperative if he is to be successful. That will require the players to understand his demands and execute them perfectly season after season.
Those who are new to Ten Hag will be learning about him and what he demands. As a player you want the manager to be the focal point on the training ground. It is not necessarily a fear factor you need but as a player you want to be a little fearful of your manager. At the same time, you want them to be empathetic and understanding of circumstance, and to be clear and decisive when making decisions and setting out a plan – with no hesitation. The most successful teams have a dominant character at the top. They have to see the culture and start to bring players along with them to make sure everyone is part of it and going in the same direction. They have also got to be inspirational inside the dressing room, or it won’t work.
Culture and managerial capabilities are big parts of a club and you have to have both spot on to be successful. Players have to buy into the manager and he has to be clear and have that authority and empathy so players jump on board. You can see this at other clubs. Look at James Milner at Liverpool. I know United fans will not appreciate the example but these sort of players are key because they keep the positive culture going and make sure everyone is doing the right things by setting an example. United need that buy-in if Ten Hag is to implement effective changes because otherwise they will be in the same vicious cycle they have been in for a number of years.
Winning a cup would be a successful season, and it does not matter which one because success breeds success. They cannot just focus on the Premier League and ignore the Europa League. It is a chance to win a competition and secure a Champions League place, and if they do want to reach the top once more they need to get used to playing twice a week. It should also give more players a chance to impress in difficult circumstances.
United supporters might want instant success, but sadly for them the club is a long way from where it was. Sometimes the best things do not come easily and take a little time to grow, but that is not a bad thing as long as you can witness the green shoots of promise. That is what Ten Hag will be hoping to see this season.