There’s been something distinctly Sisyphean about Manchester United’s managerial recruitment purgatory in the post-Ferguson era, a rinse and repeat brand of fraught chagrin punctuated like clockwork by false dawns and falls from grace.
Many have tried, but whether it be the skulking dourness of Sir Alex’s chosen one David Moyes, or the unravelling exasperation of self-proclaimed ‘Special One’, Jose Mourinho, nobody has been able to shoulder the weight of this hulking millstone of a club and drag it up the proverbial hill. Granted, some have come closer than others, but none have truly recaptured the swaggering majesty of Ferguson’s halcyon omnipotence.
And now United find themselves teetering on the cusp of another managerial trust fall this summer.
Ralf Rangnick - a man whose entire interim tenure has radiated “supply teacher in an unruly GCSE Geography class” - is set for a cushty shuffle up to the boardroom at the end of the season, and while the power vacuum this inevitably creates will be more Henry Hoover than supermassive black hole, if United are to cling on to any faint, residual hopes of masquerading as a potential title contenders come August, they need to get their next appointment spot on.
That, of course, is easier said than done.
In the years since the messianic Ferguson hung up his chewing gum, the Red Devils have exhausted just about every expected avenue and approach when it comes to anointing a suitable heir. They’ve tried the plucky underdog with notable Premier League pedigree, they’ve had more than one dalliance with big names of even bigger renown, they’ve even ploughed a demented amount of faith into a certified club legend - all to no avail.
So, where do they go from here?
The short answer, it would appear, is Amsterdam.
Yes, like an unimaginative stag-do, it looks as if the Reds have both eyes firmly fixed on the Dutch capital, and in particular, on Ajax boss Erik ten Hag.
According to the BBC, the 52-year-old has already spoken to United about the upcoming vacancy at Old Trafford, and while it has been made painstakingly clear that it is too early for there to be any kind of clear favourite in the race to succeed Rangnick, there’s no getting away from the fact that ten Hag - alongside Mauricio Pochettino - is dominating the emerging discourse surrounding the Reds’ future.
And here’s the thing - whisper it, but they just might be on to something.
Ten Hag is a serial winner, and yet he’s unencumbered by the crushing weight of expectation. He’s a Champions League frequenter who’s paid his dues on the lower rungs of the footballing ladder. He’s popular without ever veering into the realms of limelight-stealing. And a cursory glance at Twitter tells you, quite comprehensively, that the fans want him too.
He is, in many respects, a managerial tub of Neopolitan ice cream - there’s a little bit of something in there to please everyone.
But really, it’s what ten Hag could offer to United’s current crop of ailing boondoggles that makes him such an attractive prospect. The Reds Devils will no doubt embark on another summer of gaudy, madcap transfer activity in the coming months, but every spree has its limit, and whoever cosies up in the dugout at Old Trafford is ultimately going to have to get a tune out of a squad predominantly consisting of its current cogs and wheels.
This is where the Dutchman shines brightest. To put it plainly, ten Hag gets the best out of players. Want proof? Just look at the plethora of electric wunderkinds who have left Ajax in recent years and subsequently sank like anvils in a koi pond. To a number, almost all of them played their best football in Amsterdam - implementing ten Hag’s system, executing his vision.
There’s untapped potential in this United squad, plenty of players with gears yet to find - albeit trammelled at the moment by a fair amount of deadwood.
Any manager coming into the club has to make it a priority to cut them free and to get them thrumming once again. Forget lavish transfer hauls, as alluring as they may be, this is where the real key to United’s future success lies, and there aren’t many managers who you would back to do a better job than ten Hag in that regard.
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