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Erik ten Hag’s attention to detail is his biggest strength

by Darragh Fox

The focus and attention to detail Erik ten Hag approaches every task with is his most impressive attribute, according to sources familiar with his methods.

The Athletic contends the meticulous approach to preparation is the most noticeable area of improvement at Manchester United over the past twelve months.

The outlet relays the words of a figure who has worked closely with the Dutchman, but wished to remain anonymous:

“He doesn’t go for anything less than the highest level. A lot of people say that but they don’t put their money where their mouth is.” 

Ten Hag appears a manager ready to cash a cheque of any size.

He expects his coaching staff to be at Carrington by 8am. His assistant, Mitchell van der Gaag, is often in the building earlier than this and 11-hour days are reported to be “nothing out of the ordinary.”

Ten Hag is a manager who believes he, and his staff, should set the example he expects his players to follow; hard work the fundamental tenet of his approach.

The Athletic describes how this discipline has been of “paramount importance” for United’s new manager, in every aspect.

The Dutchman is adamant the dressing room be a tight ship, with information not leaking out. Similarly, players are expected to adhere to strict rules in relation to training, timekeeping, team bonding exercises, and even dress codes.

Players who are included in the match day squad, but do not feature, are subject to a “punishing session” the following day. This approach runs antithetical to his predecessors, but is one designed to “maintain a consistent level of fitness” across the entire squad.

Players who qualify for these sessions describe them as “brutal” and constitute some of the most intense workouts they have experienced in their careers.

Yet they express an “appreciation” of the benefits; it helps bridge the gap between the bench and the pitch and reinforces the committed approach Ten Hag demands of his entire squad.

A feeling had emerged under the previous reign of Ole Gunnar Solskjær that “players were given too much leeway”, allowed to dictate their own schedule and fitness levels.

This resulted in a severe drop in standards and, subsequently, a cataclysmic drop in performance. Ten Hag would not allow this unprofessionalism to continue to fester under his watch.

A “no concessions” mentality is a phrase repeatedly used by a source at Old Trafford; one which was established quickly and implemented with authority. Marcus Rashord, amidst an excellent run of form over the Christmas period, was forty-five seconds late to a team meeting before the match against Wolves. The forward was immediately dropped from the starting eleven.

The Athletic reports it was a moment Ten Hag utilised to “set a wider example” to the squad; it did not matter who fell foul of breaking the rules, they would be treated the exact same.

It elicited a positive response from Rashford, however, who felt he would now “owe something to the team” by virtue of forfeiting the right to start. He would come off the bench at half-time to score the only goal of the game and secure a crucial three points for his team.

It’s the type of power move Ten Hag’s predecessors would not have been capable of pulling, for fear of losing a dressing room which never appeared to believe in them. These same players are under no doubt about their current leader.

The major internal decisions over the past twelve months at Old Trafford – Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit, the removal of Harry Maguire’s captaincy, and the release of David de Gea on a free – were “manager-led” and underscore the absolute authority club officials have entrusted Ten Hag with. If the manager expresses a want, the club moves quickly to fulfil the request.

This extends to every area of United, with even the Sir Bobby Charlton Lounge – a source of “considerable revenue” for the hospitality sector – repurposed as a players’ lounge to accommodate Ten Hag’s new pre-match routine.

The players no longer meet at The Lowry Hotel the night before a game, instead spending the evening at home with their families, before meeting in this new lounge for a team meal designed to “encourage team bonding.”

Ten Hag’s hand of influence extends to every aspect of his players’ lives, every room in his stadium and every blade of grass on his training pitch. His obsessive attention to detail wouldn’t allow for any other way.

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