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Daniel Levy’s Imaginary (Managerial) Shortlist: Erik Ten Hag

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Nagelsmann is done. We continue down the list as we set our sights across the channel to Ajax.

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AS Roma v Ajax - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final: Leg Two Photo by Tullio Puglia - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

To: daniel.levy@tottenhamhotspur.com
From: cartilagefree@gmail.com

Subject: Let us help you! (Manager search)

Hi Daniel!

Yep, it’s us again. Look, we swear we can help you out. Maybe you missed that first email from us regarding Brendan Rodgers and how he might be a suitable fit. Yeah, we think he’s kinda nuts too but at least he’s proven himself in the Premier League!

Maybe you’re not all that jazzed about having to blow a ton of money to pry him from the clutches of Leicester City. We know you don’t have a blank check like Bayern have to pay off RB Leipzig and allow them to promote Jessie Marsch to Germany and fill in Salzburg with....well, it doesn’t matter. They’ll figure it out and we don’t care about that.

Perhaps you want someone that has done it in another league? Maybe someone that we’ve faced before and shown to be capable of going deep in Europe with a club not as talented as others. The last time you saw him personally, Lucas Moura was scoring a second half hat-trick to send Spurs to Madrid.

Yes, we’re talking about Erik ten Hag. He’s done some good work and you really need to take a hard look at him. Also, can you respond to us? Our services are great and all we want is to help.

With all due COYS,

Sean Cahill
Cartilage Free Captain

The Basics

Name: Erik ten Hag
Age: 51
Team: AFC Ajax
Nationality: Dutch
Cumulative ELO rating: 1697

The Specifics

Trophies:

Eredivisie (2018-19), KNVB Cup (2018-19, 2020-21), Johan Cruyff Shield (2019)

Erik ten Hag enjoyed a long playing career starting in 1989 as a center-back, with his final stint at Twente being the longest from 1996 until he retired in 2002. He disappeared from the game for ten years before starting his managerial career at Go Ahead Eagles in 2012. He was only there a year, but his team played rather exciting football, scoring 82 goals and ending the season with a +25 GD. His style of play and managerial skill caught the eye of Germany’s giants, Bayern Munich. He was put in charge of the second side, playing in the lower divisions of the Bundesliga, again doing quite well. His squads scored 156 goals over two seasons and only lost 14 matches over his two years there. Wanting a new challenge, he joined Utrecht for two seasons before taking his current role at Ajax in 2017. Those final two stints are where we see ten Hag’s effect, especially at Ajax. Since he’s taken over, Ajax won the Eredivisie for the first time since the 2013-14 season and will almost certainly win the league this season. Of course, we all know about their Champions League run in 2018-19 where they were stoppage time away from going to the final.

Simply put, ten Hag has been a success everywhere he’s managed.

Tactics:

Erik ten Hag favors a 4-3-3 for his base formation but has utilized a 4-2-3-1. He has shown flexibility in how he sets up his midfield. When Ajax were on their run in 18-19, ten Hag usually set up a double pivot with Frenkie de Jong and Lasse Schöne while Donny van de Beek played as a central attacking midfield, attempting to feed David Neres, Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech. His squads are technically sound and the defensive back four are disciplined. Ajax have surrendered just 21 goals in domestic play this season while never giving up more than two goals in a match.

Ten Hag’s sides like to build from the back and will do so by dropping one of the two midfielders in the double pivot to join the back three while the fullbacks can bomb forward into attack. The good thing is that ten Hag isn’t married to one specific way of building up: He may push through the midfield or go down the flanks depending on set up and will make adjustments necessary as the opponent tries to make their changes.

The attacking band, along with the third midfielder, may interchange positions as they work to get the ball behind the defensive back four, requiring timed runs and incisive passes to do so. It’s far from boring and when they don’t have the ball, ten Hag wants his team to press to force turnovers and break on the counter-attack.

Strengths:

Ten Hag isn’t a novice and has cut his teeth at a few clubs. The experience he picked up while in the Bayern Munich system seems to have shaped his style once he moved to Utrecht and Ajax. His play style is fun to watch and the attacking style keeps defensive units guessing. While we can make jokes about no defending in the Eredivisie, Ajax weren’t a juggernaut prior to his arrival. He’s come in, established himself, and done the best job he can with the talent provided. Yes, that 18-19 squad had some standouts with de Jong, de Ligt, Tadic and Van de Beek, but the system has to work to make the shine. Since he’s lose three of those four players, they’ve finished in a tie for first in a COVID-shortened season (no title given) and will win this season’s title as previously mentioned while playing their attractive style of football. Ten Hag also works well with youth and wants to build from those ranks, meaning the Tottenham academy will get some love going forward if ten Hag wins the job.

Weaknesses:

The obvious weakness is that he hasn’t had any success in a top league. To his defense, he hasn’t made that jump yet, but the track record of managers jumping from the Eredivisie to one of the top five leagues is all over the place. While Johan Cruyff was successful at Barcelona during his managerial stint there, we have stories such as Frank de Boer. Remember him? You should, because Spurs were heavily linked to him before Mauricio Pochettino was hired back in 2014. Dick Advocaat also had a lot of success around Europe but his chance at Sunderland in 2015 was only considered good because the club survived the relegation battle with one match to spare. Former Spurs manager Martin Jol wasn’t bad though and if not for Lasagna-gate, he may have led Tottenham to the Champions League for the first time.

While it may not be fair to compare him to those managers until he gets a shot at a club like Tottenham Hotspur, it’s very much a concern. He might end up being a brilliant choice and comes into the Premier League without a care in the world. He could also fall flat on his face like we’ve seen in the past and put Spurs behind the eight ball even more. He’s a risk for this reason.

The Verdict

Likeliness of being hired

Pretty good! Ten Hag has been seriously linked by multiple sources. Matt Law wrote about it, saying that Spurs have moved him high up the list following the news that Nagelsmann was heading to Munich. He has one year remaining on his contract at Ajax meaning that any compensation to the Dutch club would be far less than paying off Leicester City. Unless he comes out and says he’s happy at Ajax and they offer him a new contract, expect his name to keep being linked to Spurs.

Grade if Hired: B+

I love ten Hag’s style of play. His teams are fun to watch and he seems to find new wrinkles to add to Ajax’s attack every possible chance. He works well with youth and gets the most out of players that aren’t superstars. The concern is that he is unproven in a top league, despite that Champions League run. That being said, I wouldn’t hate this hire one bit and think he’d be a solid fit for Tottenham Hotspur.