Man United boss Erik ten Hag can take positives from preseason tour, but real work is yet to start

PERTH, Australia – The final act of Manchester United’s summer tour of Thailand and Australia did not reflect how positive the trip had been.

Eric Bailly sent a plastic chair hurtling across the pitch as he left the pitch at the sodden Optus Stadium, while David De Gea marched through the mixed zone with a face like thunder about an hour later.

Calum Chambers’ equalizer for Aston Villa made it 2-2 – putting a damper on Erik ten Hag’s perfect record as manager and it wasn’t just the players who were upset.

Ten Hag described the side’s performance in the second half as “unacceptable” and accused his players of a lack of concentration – a summary he provided both in the dressing room and in his post-match interviews.

However, the United manager was in a more forgiving mood when the squad was taken straight from the stadium to the private terminal at Perth Airport ahead of the long flight back to Manchester.

He paced the Boeing 747, equipped only with business class seats, thanking the staff for their efforts during the tour, paying tribute to their work and for most being away from friends and family for the better part of the three weeks.

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Ten Hag has only been in position for a month but has already made a name for itself. His microscopic attention to detail has seen him meet club bosses with a large binder, divided into sections and color-coded so he can best present issues he feels need attention while also watching how his coaches set out cones and goals for training exercises before he strides across the pitch himself to make sure the distances are right.

Surveying the WACA ahead of an open training session on Thursday, he was not happy with the positioning of some cameras and promptly had them repaired.

The ‘control freak’ version of Ten Hag is one he’s comfortable with – players and staff said the same at Ajax – but being the center of attention proves stranger. After practice, some players went to the almost 5,000 spectators to give autographs. There were a number of calls for Ten Hag to join them, but it wasn’t until assistant Steve McClaren waved him over that he finally did.

Even for a man who has worked at Bayern Munich and managed the biggest club in the Netherlands, Man United’s size still takes some getting used to.

Louis van Gaal complained at his first United press conference in Los Angeles in 2014 that the summer tour was all about making money and not preparing players for the season, but Ten Hag coped for the most part with ease.

“It’s part of football these days,” he said. “You have to accept it as a coach, as a team you have to make the best of it, we did that.

“I think it’s great for the team spirit to be together for so long, you can really improve that, expand it, you have a lot of time to work on your team because you’re so close together. That’s great I would say.

“It’s great to be in great cities: Bangkok, Melbourne, Perth. There are downsides, that’s clear, but you have to deal with certain things that are decided when you have no control over them. If you have influence, it’s only on the game – that’s our focus.”

Ten Hag’s focus has been football and little else, but he has made it clear that it’s not just the players who will be involved in making the club successful again. Some have commented that the 52-year-old has “the aura of Sir Alex Ferguson” because he has tried to make everyone – regardless of role or department – feel like part of the team. Players were encouraged to visit Perth Zoo on Thursday and staff were told they could go too if they wished.

For all the positive vibes that emanated from the tour, Ten Hag and his staff feel that it is very fragile. Three new players – Lisandro Martinez, Tyrell Malacia and Christian Eriksen – have arrived but his No1 target Frenkie de Jong is still at Barcelona and talks with the Spanish club are at an impasse for the time being.

Ten Hag was able to fend off questions about Cristiano Ronaldo during the tour but questions as to whether the 37-year-old will stay at the club next season will come to a head this week. The two will meet face to face for the first time ahead of the next friendly against potential Ronaldo contenders Atletico Madrid on Saturday in Oslo.

After that, Ten Hag’s first Premier League game in charge is against Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford on 7 August. It may not be Liverpool or Manchester City but the importance of a good start has not been lost on the new manager.

“I always think about the first game,” he said of his expectations for the season. “The first game is the most important. We want to win every game, but first we want to win the first game.”

As he left the team hotel in Perth for the last time, an Aussie fan behind the barricades took the opportunity to ask Ten Hag how United were doing. “So far so good,” he replied with a smile.

While he couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to life in his new job, he will know that the real work is yet to begin. Man United boss Erik ten Hag can take positives from preseason tour, but real work is yet to start

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