MANCHESTER, England — A model of stability in Alex Ferguson’s long trophy-filled tenure, Manchester United hired a fifth full-time manager in nine years since his retirement by bringing in Erik ten Hag from Ajax.
Ten Hag’s arrival was announced by United on Thursday and the 52-year-old Dutchman will join at the end of the season to 2025. He’s tasked with awakening a fallen superpower in European soccer that is enduring its longest trophy drought in nearly 40 years.
United has been led by interim managers Michael Carrick and currently Ralf Rangnick since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was fired in November.
Adopting the attacking philosophy of the great Johan Cruyff, ten Hag succeeded in bringing the good times back to Ajax, leading the biggest team in the Netherlands to two Eredivisie titles — it could be three in a few weeks — as well as the Champions League semifinals in 2019.
Returning United to its former heights is set to be an even bigger job, given the team won the last of its record 20 English titles in 2013 — Ferguson’s final season of his 26-year reign — and hasn’t won a trophy since beating Ajax in the Europa League final in 2017. United hasn’t endured such a trophy drought in 40 years and has slipped way behind rivals Manchester City and Liverpool despite continuing to spend heavily on players.
The three-time European champion might not even return to the Champions League next season. United is three points out of the Premier League top four with five games remaining.
Ten Hag might be the biggest managerial gamble in United’s turbulent post-Ferguson era.
Aside from a two-year spell with Bayern Munich’s reserve team (in 2013-15, when Pep Guardiola was in charge of the first team), ten Hag has coached only in the Netherlands — with Go Ahead Eagles, Utrecht and most recently Ajax since 2017.
As such, he is untested in handling the egos of some of the biggest names in world soccer — and United has some of them in Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.
An advocate of the 4-3-3 that is so popular in the Netherlands, ten Hag tries to play attractive, attacking football in the manner of the teams coached by Cruyff, whose shadow and philosophy hangs over the club like Ferguson’s does at Old Trafford.