The obvious and short answer to that is a lot, but the Dutchman is as aware of that as anyone. The team last season, and in truth for the last few seasons has been not far from shambolic, breaking records – the wrong kind of records – for the goals shipped and their lowly league position. There was no unity, no identity, no direction, no belief.
Ten Hag was identified as the man to bring all that to Manchester United and more. Since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club at the end of the 2012 – 2013 season much has changed in the power base of the EPL. To pour salt in the wounds, their two biggest rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City, are the clubs who have made the move to the next level to become not just England’s but the world’s greatest sides.
Ten Hag has to do more than “simply” shape United into the side they were a decade ago: he has to actually improve on that, so they can legitimately compete against the likes of Liverpool and City, not to mention a resurgent Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle. That is a massive task.
It is a gamble bringing someone with no very top-level experience like ten Hag in. On the other hand, you do not achieve anything in sports without taking a chance. The difference, however, is that in mind sports such as poker you can walk away at the end of the day and start afresh tomorrow, while any damage done with a football club has implications for years to come. Failure will very likely result in this once great club falling out of the top six and European competition for the foreseeable future.
Not all of these changes need to be achieved overnight. If the fans and the board can see genuine progress, the former Ajax coach will be given time to complete or at least to continue his project. That progress needs to address many of those issues pointed out earlier.
The first indication of what is going to change will become evident with the players and the type of players targeted and brought in. Early signs are certainly positive that it will be a way more strategic approach than last summer, when players were seemingly bought with no thought to how they would actually play in a team.
Speculation will continue as to whether Cristiano Ronaldo, one of football’s greatest players and amongst the wealthiest sportsmen on the planet will be part of ten Hag’s plans. Ronaldo was perhaps the only player to come out of last season with any credit, but he is hardly a player for the future, or someone you can build a new team around.
When at Ajax, ten Hag played a very high tempo aggressive style of play, where every one of his players was expected to work as hard without the ball as they did with it. That was sadly lacking at United last season. Pressing, certainly as a team was non-existent, meaning the opposition had far too much time and space with which to hurt the Reds, something almost every opposing side took the opportunity to do.
That is the opposite to how ten Hag will set his team out to play, though he will find it a lot harder to repeat the tactics from Ajax, where his sides would almost always enjoy 70% of possession than he will in the EPL.
If the Dutchman’s United start the season playing, pressingand hunting as a team that will be a huge tick in his favour. It will not mean that success will surely follow, but it is a very good starting point and foundation from which to build, and will immediately show the difference between what an Erik ten Hag Manchester United looks like, as opposed to an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick United. Fans can only hope the results will be as different as well.