ERIK TEN HAG has always loved a challenge – and they don’t come much bigger than when Manchester United called him 12 months ago.
When United decided he was the man who could sweep them off their knees, Ten Hag guided Ajax to their third consecutive title and one of the hottest managers in Europe.
The glamor of Old Trafford has always trumped Amsterdam, but managing England’s biggest club has meant a brighter spotlight than any other Premier League side.
But replacing Ralf Rangnick was one thing – tonight Ten Hag meets the man who had the most thankless job of all ten years ago, following in Sir Alex Ferguson’s footsteps.
United take on a West Ham side managed by David Moyes, the man Fergie chose to be his replacement but was sacked after just ten agonizing months.
Ten Hag had a year of experience back then – a title-winning campaign with Go Ahead Eagles – when Moyes arrived at Old Trafford in 2013.
Even a rookie manager at the time knew what a Mission Impossible the Scot had taken on.
Whether Dutchman Ten Hag, 53, would have done the same is, he stressed, hypothetical.
But that’s one of the reasons he has a lot of respect for 60-year-old Moyes.
ETH admitted: “It is very clear that succeeding Sir Alex is a really difficult task.
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“He did it and had the courage to do it – that’s why I admire him. He has also spent so much time on the job at many Premier League clubs.
“So he’s a great manager with a lot of skills. We have to get the maximum out of it if we want to achieve the desired result.”
After the drama of Thursday’s penalty loss in Brighton, that result is a win – to contribute to a top-four result that looked like it was nailed down but is suddenly far from it.
With the Hammers still chasing points to ensure safety and a Europa Conference final, Ten Hag knows there can’t be a lack of focus.
Despite everything he is doing to make United a force again – the EFL Cup won and an FA Cup final awaits – there was still far too much wobbling.
In six away games against the Prems’ top dogs, they have scored just one point and held on to it after coughing up a two-goal lead at Tottenham.
Ten Hag added: “We need to keep our heads level, but I also demand passion from my players.
“But I tell the players that if you want to be in four competitions, you need so much energy and a good game plan.
“You can’t do it 99 percent, it has to be 100 and 95 minutes long. We like it, but it takes energy. That’s our job and it starts again on Sunday.”
Nobody is more determined to try again than Luke Shaw, whose bloody handball gave Brighton the penalty.
Shaw has been United’s most consistent player, moving from left-back to centre-back and has told his team-mates they will step into the lion’s den this afternoon.
He said: “We know how good their audience is and they’re going to love it, they’re going to love their team and we have to be ready.
“They are a really good team and have a good dynamic. We have to play the game, not the occasion.
“What’s even more disappointing is that we were feeling so comfortable but got dragged back into a fight we didn’t want to be in so we need to refocus.”
MAN UTD (likely): De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, Casemiro, Eriksen, Fernandes, Antony, Martial, Rashford.