Ten Hag won't let touring get in the way of Man United pre-season

Ten Hag won’t let touring get in the way of Man United pre-season

MELBOURNE, Australia — Erik ten Hag was so focused on football during Manchester United’s tour of Thailand and Australia that he had little time for anything else.

It is traditional on these trips for the manager to hold press conferences after games, but Ten Hag explained to club staff that his time would be better spent planning the next day’s training session. Post-match briefings usually only last around 10 minutes, but for Ten Hag every second counts, and while Jurgen Klopp faced questions over Liverpool’s 4-0 loss to United in Bangkok – the opener of Ten Hag in charge – the Dutchman was already on the team bus, chatting with assistants Mitchell van der Gaag and Steve McClaren.

Ten Hag’s message to his players and the 120 tour members was clear: they are here to train, and nothing should stop them.

Suggestions that players could be made available for media work ahead of sessions were rebuffed by Ten Hag, who asked to be kept up to date on everything his team is doing, from interviews to commercial work. In the past, players have been taken to local attractions for photo ops, but in Bangkok and Melbourne they have been ferried from the airport to hotels, training and matches with little something else in between. An idea was pitched to the film’s actors on the set of Australian soap opera ‘Neighbors’, just outside Melbourne, but it was another no from Ten Hag.

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Club staff have seen flashes of the 52-year-old’s lighter side, but the word used around the team hotel to describe the new manager is ‘intense’. His workouts were the same.

When Fred walked into an interview with ESPN at the team hotel in Bangkok, he was asked how he was feeling. “Tired,” was the weary-looking Brazilian’s response. Scott McTominay has toured under Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but says this one is the most grueling he has experienced, especially running in the hot and humid weather of Thailand.

Marcus Rashford has had just over three weeks with Ten Hag and says he is already in better shape than he was last season. Rashford was one of the players recalled to Carrington a week ahead of schedule after Ten Hag came to the conclusion that the team would need a boost to be able to play their brand of proactive and pressing football.

Most days on tour involved double sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – and there were even morning practices before matches. The training drills all have the same goal: clean passing, targeted movement and pressure.

A regularly used drill involves seven players trying to keep the ball away from three others in a tight space. The objective for the larger group is to keep the ball as long as possible while the smaller group tries to collect it and score in small nets at each end of the small field. A goal is valuable and means three new players are substituted to chase the ball down the middle.

Mistakes have consequences, even in training.

In eight-on-six games played on a half court, a goal for the smaller team means the larger group is punished with push-ups. The idea is to make training more competitive, and no one wants the embarrassment of being told to forfeit.

Ten Hag is fully involved, interrupting the session if he sees anything he doesn’t like.

Cameras at a public session at the Rajamangala National Stadium the day before the game against Liverpool caught the United boss yelling at Jadon Sancho because the winger had failed to make the correct run. His plain English can make instructions seem very direct when addressing individuals, but it also means there is no confusion as to his message.

He demanded high standards from his first session, but privately accepts that it will take time for his new players to get it right. A player was asked about the volume of new information he is being asked to learn, to which the response was: “It’s huge”.

Ten Hag is also learning and asked staff from different departments to wear certain colorful team clothes on certain days so that he can easily identify who they are and what they do.

Outside of practice, players are encouraged to relax.

At the W Melbourne Hotel, there’s a team room equipped with a ping-pong table, pool table, bean bag chairs, and a huge TV screen on one of the walls. The competition to replace Andreas Pereira as ping pong champion is fierce, and matches involving Bruno Fernandes can be particularly competitive.

The South American players meet in the room, lit with red lights, with the coffees which are allowed to them after lunch, while others sit on their laptops. McTominay needed his laptop so badly for the flight from Bangkok to Melbourne that he asked to be allowed to crawl inside the baggage compartment of the team bus to retrieve it. He smiled and waved at the crowd of Thai fans waiting for him once he got out.

The response from fans, especially in Thailand, has been huge. Bangkok is considered a Liverpool stronghold in terms of Southeast Asian fandom, but a crowd of thousands greeted the team when they landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Darren Fletcher thought he was safe enough to head to the restaurant for a Diet Coke at the team hotel at 10 p.m., only to hear his name chanted when he appeared at the top of the escalator. He ordered room service instead.

The appetite for United wherever they travel in the world hasn’t been quenched in almost 10 years without a Premier League title and five without a trophy of any kind. Ten Hag is here to bring success back and wastes no time getting started.

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