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Ten Hag: Man United owners need right strategy as club eyes Champions League return
MANCHESTER, England: Erik ten Hag is on the brink of securing a return to the Champions League in his first year in charge of Manchester United.
By the time his second season gets underway, the Premier League club could have new owners and an influx of money to support his mission to restore it to its former glories.
Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani and British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe are both bidding to buy out United owners the Glazer family, with fans hoping that will bring newfound wealth to sign some of the world’s best players.
United’s opponent on Thursday, however, stands as proof that spending power doesn’t automatically bring success.
“You have to do the right things,” Ten Hag said ahead of the game against Chelsea at Old Trafford. “You can have money, but you have to do it and spend it in a smart way and you need to have a strategy behind it. Otherwise the money doesn’t work.”
It certainly hasn’t worked out for Chelsea in its first year under new owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital. A shambolic season has left the 2021 European champions in the bottom half of the table despite spending around $630 million on new signings.
Two managers have also departed in Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter. Mauricio Pochettino is expected to be appointed its next full-time coach.
“It’s hard in the modern world because everything’s very reactionary,” interim manager Frank Lampard said Wednesday. “If you want to go in a certain direction and you don’t get any joy for a while, people react to that. For Chelsea it has to be a longer picture than that to get us a bit more of a process. People have to stick with that along the way.”
United have been through turbulence of their own since former manager Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Having been a Champions League mainstay under Ferguson, the club has repeatedly failed to qualify for it over the past decade.
United finished sixth last season, the fifth time since 2013 that they have fallen outside of the top four.
A return to the Champions League was widely regarded as the minimum requirement in Ten Hag’s first year.
He can secure that if his team picks up one point from its final two games, both at home, against Chelsea and then Fulham on Sunday.
Having got to this stage, it would take a remarkable collapse to miss out on a place in the top four now and hand the final Champions League qualifying position to archrival Liverpool.
“We want to win the game, play dominant football and get the job done,” the Dutch manager said Wednesday.
A return to European soccer’s elite competition is vital in United’s long-term plans to challenge Manchester City’s supremacy in the Premier League.
Ten Hag’s first job was to reinstate the 20-time league champions among English soccer’s elite and a place in the top four will be confirmation of that. It will not only be good for United’s reputation but also bring them much-needed revenue from prize money and commercial deals. In prize money alone, United would miss out on an estimated $48 million without the Champions League.
For Ten Hag, extra revenue should help to fund his recruitment plans, even before a proposed takeover, with a prolific striker his priority.
The ability to offer Champions League soccer to prospective targets should also strengthen United’s hand in transfer negotiations.
Harry Kane, for instance, will not be playing in next season’s competition if he remains at Tottenham.
“I want to have players with the right personalities who are outstanding and contribute on the highest levels,” Ten Hag said. “That is what we want and what we have to work for.”
United were in disarray when he was hired last year. They fired club icon Ole Gunnar Solskjaer midway through the season and replaced him with interim manager Ralf Rangnick, who also failed to guide United to a top four finish.
Ten Hag has already lifted his first trophy by winning the League Cup and has also advanced to the final of the FA Cup against Manchester City on June 3.
But securing a place in the Champions League could ultimately determine the success of the season.
“We want to compete with the best and be in the Champions League,” Ten Hag said. “In the Premier League, you have to be one of the first four. That’s not easy, many are competing for it, many think they should (be in it).
“We are in a project. We want to go back and win trophies. We win one trophy, but we want more trophies, (to) compete with the best. We are still in a journey but we think we are in the right direction. It can always be better because good is not good enough.”