Exclusive: Non-negotiables with Erik ten Hag - "Courage is an essential quality to play for Manchester United"

We sat down with the Man Utd manager to discuss the key coaching values and philosophies he won’t compromise on and how they frame his leadership style.

By Callum Davis Published: 19 October 2022 - 1.07pm

It could be the ultimate Premier League poisoned chalice.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2014, five managers have tried and failed to restore Manchester United to English football's top table.

David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick have all fallen short but there are high hopes that Erik ten Hag can be the man to herald the start of a new golden era at Old Trafford.

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Ten Hag cultivated his reputation as one of European football's brightest minds under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich.

The Dutchman went on to cut his teeth in management with Eredivisie minnows Utrech before leading Ajax to three consecutive league titles and the last four of the Champions League in 2019.

Now Ten Hag has revealed all in an exclusive interview, delving deeper into his key philosophies, values and what he expects from his players.

You're renowned for being a real student of the game, how important is it that your players share your passion for success?

I like passionate players. Football is a game of the head, but also your heart.

But it is quite difficult to quantify passion. For me, the most important thing is to find the right balance between head and heart.

The Liverpool win seemed like a watershed moment, but after the game you pushed your players to play with more courage. Do you think it takes bravery to play for a club the size of Manchester United?

Correct. Courage is an essential quality to play for Manchester United.

That means in possession, keeping your options open and being brave enough to make the difficult pass.

It means in attack, making runs and bringing the ball out from the back with confidence.

In defence, it means pressing as high as possible as a team, because if you don't press high then that’s a problem.

I need my players to be proactive on both sides of the ball and that takes courage.

Erik ten Hag and Cristiano Ronaldo

Would you also say it takes courage to play your system?

It does take courage but, at the same time, I don't want us to be naive.

I didn't like what I saw at Brentford, where we played out from the back against an opponent that was inviting us to do so.

In those situation we have to be smarter, we have to read the situation and play the ball quicker with long balls and passes in behind.

You’ve frequently mentioned you’re looking for the right attitude from your players. Have you seen a more positive trend since your arrival?

Attitude is a generic term.

I want my team to be connected and to work together because football is a team sport.

Only when you give 100% can you achieve anything, 99% is not enough in football.

Then you have to be able to deal with setbacks. You have to do 100% well otherwise you cannot succeed.

That is what I think of when we speak about attitude.

I think it is the basis for winning trophies. We know it’s a long road to win trophies, but you have to start somewhere and good atittude sets a foundation.

You have a reputation for being strict with your players. Would you describe yourself as a disciplinarian?

Do I believe discipline is important? Yes.

We have to display discipline in defence, of course.. Things go wrong but you need to be able to recover.

I want 100% discipline, but I also want to give the players freedom especially when we are in possession in the final third as long as they do it in togetherness, creating spaces for each other.

I want to give the team and individual players freedom to express themselves. 

Jurgen Klopp and Erik ten Hag during Man Utd vs Liverpool

You mention togetherness. There was the story recently that suggested you joined the players in a 13km run after the Brentford loss. Is that true?

Yes, I did do this, but I have to improve because I was by far the slowest!

I wanted to show whether we lose or win, we do it together.

So that has to be the attitude for me, the coaching staff, everyone at the club. We have to be responsible for the team.

When the squad is preparing for a game, we do it together, as one.

Was that to show the players that you will fight for them and they will fight for you?

I want players to fight for themselves, fight for the team, fight for Manchester United and the many fans.

If they do that, then I will fight with them.