Erik ten Hag: Manchester United must leap forward in coming year

Erik ten Hag is demanding Manchester United raise the bar once again having overseen “necessary” and “immense” improvements during his first year in charge.

Last summer the Dutchman took the reins at a club in disarray, with a lack of coherency, quality and joined-up thinking resulting in a wretched 2021-22 campaign.

Ten Hag brought in a new style, implemented demanding standards and handled star Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit as well he could before masterminding the end of United’s six-year wait for silverware.

The Carabao Cup triumph was followed by a third-placed Premier League finish and FA Cup final loss to eventual treble winners Manchester City, who are the target as they push for further improvements.

Manchester United v Lyon – Pre Season Friendly – Scottish Gas Murrayfield Stadium

Ten Hag brought in a new style when he took the reins at the club (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“I think the levels all across increased (at an) immense (level) and that was necessary,” Ten Hag said, reflecting on his first year in charge.

“But, still, we are not there where we want to be and we have to raise the bar, so we have to go to next levels.

“You learn always and I think English football evolves and I think you see nowadays the league is stronger and stronger. When you compare it with three, four years ago, it’s definitely the case.

“Because all the strong players get attracted to the Premier League, all the best managers got attracted to the Premier League, so every time it develops and progresses.

“It’s really a challenge and I’m really looking forward again to go in the season and to get the challenge.”

United have been bolstered heading into the new season by the arrivals of Mason Mount from Chelsea and Inter Milan’s adventurous goalkeeper Andre Onana.

Rasmus Hojlund is set to join them after United agreed a deal in principle to sign the talented Atalanta striker for a £64million fee rising to £72m – a potentially key addition to a goal-shy group.

“I can’t talk about this player in this moment because I’m a long time in football and I know first we need signings,” said Ten Hag, who always tends to keeps cards close to his chest.

AFC Bournemouth v Atalanta – Pre Season Friendly – Vitality Stadium

Rasmus Hojlund is set to join the Red Devils (Nigel French/PA)

“So far, we have to keep calm and let the professionals do their work. “

Hojlund’s arrival will take United’s summer outlay to £162.8m – a figure that would increase to £179.2m if the respective clauses in the three arrivals’ contracts are met.

Club success is key to many of those add-ons and fans could be concerned it will be hard to reach those heights under the Glazers given their track record.

Hope that their long, unpopular ownership could end grew with November’s announcement of a “strategic review” at United, with Sheikh Jassim and Sir Jim Ratcliffe placing bids.

But the Glazers are dragging their heels and no resolution is in sight with the Premier League kick-off less than a fortnight away.

“I focus on my job, and that is to improve the team,” Ten Hag told the PA news agency when asked about the takeover situation.

“I have to do my work to sign the players and I have to work on the way of play. That is my focus area.

“That’s what I’ve done, so I don’t get distracted from any of the strategic review. That’s what others in the club will deal with.

“We have a good information line. We’re sharing the information, so I know where I am and I can focus on my job.

“Most of the times (the information) is going over (chief executive) Richard Arnold or (football director) John Murtough. But sometimes also we have direct contact, as you have seen in New York.”

Ten Hag faced a variety of questions about different topics in the New York area ahead of kicking off their US tour with a 2-0 friendly win against Arsenal at MetLife Stadium.

The Dutchman pointed back to his comments there when asked for an update on Mason Greenwood, who has been suspended since January 2022.

The Crown Prosecution Service announced in February that all charges, including attempted rape and assault, had been dropped but an internal investigation continues.

“I explained in New York and I don’t think I have to reply again on that question,” Ten Hag said. “I answered this question, but I can’t every time answer the same question.”

Another major topic heading into the New York leg was the United captaincy as Ten Hag had just stripped Harry Maguire of the armband and handed it to Bruno Fernandes.

Harry Maguire File Photo

There are questions over Harry Maguire’s future at United (Martin Rickett/PA)

The club have since rejected a £20m bid from West Ham for the out-of-favour defender, who it was suggested could dominate the first few months of the season like Ronaldo did last term.

“I don’t see it like that, but you can have that impression,” Ten Hag retorted. “That’s your choice.

“But not last year, not this year. We are building, we are building a project. We want to win trophies.

“And, so we have to invest in the way of play, we have to invest in the team and our focus is not on one player.”

Ten Hag says consistency across the team is essential if United are to kick on next season, with the early acquisitions of Mount and Onana boosting their preparations.

“I wouldn’t call it an Erik ten Hag squad,” the manager added. “It’s about the demands of top football.

“We have to find the players, or we have to increase the levels from the players who are there.

“I think many players improved during last season. My expectation is that we can make another step that we increase the levels of the individuals.”

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