Erik ten Hag has spent more than five years at Ajax and has a contract with the club that runs until 2023; the 52-year-old has won two league titles and two KNVB Cups; Ajax are currently top of the Eredivisie table
Thursday 24 March 2022 08:28, UK
Manchester United held "positive" talks with Erik ten Hag on Monday - with the club hierarchy thought to be impressed by his vision and philosophy.
The interview was part of the ongoing process to appoint the next permanent first-team boss.
That process is said to have now reached a more advanced stage, but does not mean Ten Hag has emerged as the club's first choice.
As part of the process, United also plan to speak to their other preferred candidates.
According to United sources, there is no early favourite yet and they are open-minded about the identity of their new manager.
Sky Sports News reported earlier this week the other candidates are Mauricio Pochettino, Julen Lopetegui and Luis Enrique.
Ten Hag has a contract at Ajax that runs until the summer of 2023, but United's good relationship with the Dutch club - former goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is chief executive - allowed them to speak to him.
The club want to make a decision on their next permanent manager as soon as possible. However, they have not put a formal deadline on the process, which is being led by Darren Fletcher and John Murtough.
Ajax have declined to comment, while Ten Hag's representatives have been contacted for comment.
United had previously distanced themselves from coverage suggesting they are circling around Thomas Tuchel amid Chelsea's uncertain future with one source describing it as "media talk not reality".
They maintained there is a four-man shortlist being considered to take charge of the club, which does not feature the reigning European Cup-winning manager.
United are aware the opening move for a new ownership group at Stamford Bridge will be to secure Tuchel's future.
The 48-year-old has also displayed the absolute opposite of a desire to exit Chelsea, navigating difficult circumstances with aplomb and underlining his happiness despite the upheaval.
United want a manager in place ahead of the new season.
Sky Sports News' senior reporter Melissa Reddy:
Erik ten Hag having a formal interview with Manchester United will come as no surprise given his status as one of the most progressive coaches in Europe, and his long links to their managerial vacancy.
The 52-year-old has had admirers at Old Trafford stretching back to 2018/19, when his Ajax side knocked out Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16, before then stunning Juventus and only being denied a place in the final after Lucas Moura's last-minute goal for Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham.
Ten Hag is a popular choice to take charge at Old Trafford and represents what is seen as a "fresh, exciting future", although there is an acceptance risk is involved as it would be a sizeable leap for him.
The expectations, global glare placed on United, and level of competition at the top end of the Premier League is like nothing he would have previously experienced.
Ten Hag was interviewed by Spurs as a possible replacement for Jose Mourinho last summer, but they passed on the opportunity citing a lack of "charisma".
The last highly successful Ajax coach to move to England's top flight - via Inter - was Frank de Boer, who lasted just 77 days at Crystal Palace.
Being granted an audience with Ten Hag was made easy by United's smooth relationship with the Dutch club.
Speaking to Pochettino, the other strong candidate, would not be as simple with Paris Saint-Germain not as obliging.
United's insistence that there is "no early favourite" for the role, and that they are remaining open-minded, will not water down the feeling that Ten Hag is their man given the public nature of this development.
Both he and Pochettino are under contract at their clubs until June 2023, so compensation would be involved.
Julen Lopetegui and Luis Enrique are the other two men on the shortlist and the club state their desire is to follow the process with all candidates. United are eager to avoid the errors that have led to them searching for a fifth permanent manager in nine years.
Dutch football expert Marcel van der Kraan:
"There are three major opportunities for Erik ten Hag. Manchester United is only one of them. I don't want to dampen the excitement in England but maybe United have not done all the work yet.
"Yes, they've had positive talks with Ten Hag but so have two other major clubs in Europe. These are clubs who play Champions League football and who have chances to win titles in their own country.
"One of those clubs is very concrete for Ten Hag, and I think that is on mainland Europe - not in England. I know for a fact that Ten Hag is very excited about that job too.
"If Manchester United want to get things going, they will have to speed things up and make things concrete. They will have to put a contract out to him because I think there's a real danger it could become too late for him.
"For Ten Hag, there may be the consideration of the graveyard Manchester United has been for managers.
"Not everything during his career has gone well for United when you see how Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have all failed and seen their reputations damaged.
"It needs some more convincing from United."
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