On Monday, Borussia Dortmund announced that Marco Rose, current manager at Borussia Monchengladbach, would become the club’s coach after the 2020/21 season. With Rose leaving Gladbach, the focus has turned toward naming his successor. One of the names discussed has been Erik ten Hag, current manager of Ajax.
It is Time for ten Hag to Move on From Ajax
Successes for ten Hag at Ajax
Since his appointment in 2017, ten Hag has guided Ajax through one of the club’s greatest periods in its illustrious history, reaching heights not seen since the 1995 team that were crowned European champions. His stock rose significantly following the magical 2018/19 season, where Ajax won the Eredivisie and KNVB Cup while reaching the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the first time in 22 years.
However, ten Hag has remained at Ajax, despite being linked to several major clubs over the last two years. After Bayern Munich sacked Niko Kovac, ten Hag emerged as one of the frontrunners for the position, before Hansi Flick embarked on a miraculous run, culminating in a “Sextuple” for the Bavarians in 2020. Dortmund have also been considered a viable option for ten Hag before the hiring of Rose this past week.
Now, with Gladbach in search of a manager, ten Hag’s name has circulated once again.
Ajax Attacking Dominance
Therefore, the question must be asked: Why ten Tag? What makes him a heavily sought-after coach?
Ten Hag’s success at Ajax has been remarkable. During his time in Amsterdam, out of 147 matches, the Dutch giants have won 107, drawn 18 and lost only 22. His points-per-match is a staggering 2.31. His teams have scored an abundance of goals – a total of 404 since the 2017/18 season. In 2018/19, Ajax scored 119 goals, just three behind the all-time league record set by Ajax in 1966/67.
Ten Hag led the club to a double that season, claiming a league and Dutch cup title. Before that accomplishment, Ajax had last won those respective competitions in 2010 and 2014. It was also the first time Ajax won both trophies in the same season since 2001/02. Clearly, ten Hag’s reign at Ajax has confirmed his status as a winner.
Showcase in Europe
The remarkable 2018/19 season put ten Hag officially on the radar of major European clubs as he helped assemble the most impressive Ajax squad since the great team of the 1990s. With flair and youth, Ajax dominated the Eredivisie, but it was in Europe where the team reached its peak.
In the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg, Ajax eviscerated Real Madrid 4-1 in the Santiago Bernabéu, ending the Spanish giants’ run of recent dominance in the competition. In the quarter-finals, they impressively dispatched Juventus over two legs, including winning 2-1 in Turin. Even though the run came to a dispiriting end to Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-finals, ten Hag’s Ajax were considered the team of Europe that season, receiving global acclaim for their efforts.
Style of Play Under ten Hag
With an attack-minded philosophy, Ajax under ten Hag have consistently played some of the most attractive football in the world during his tenure. Using the trademark Ajax 4-3-3 formation, ten Hag pushes for a free-flowing attack, exploiting the opposition with pace from his wingers and an advanced midfielder, while utilising the skill and awareness of two deeper midfielders, who control the tempo of each match and connect the attack with the defence.
In 2018/19, Frenkie de Jong executed the deep midfield role with ease, as the then-21-year-old became one of the standout performers of the Ajax squad, leading to his eventual move to Barcelona for €86 million in 2019. Hakim Ziyech excelled on the right-wing, finishing the season with 21 goals and 24 assists in all competitions. This eventually led to his sale to Chelsea in 2020 for €40 million. Donny van de Beek played the attacking midfielder role with great aplomb, scoring 17 goals with 13 assists throughout that campaign. Like De Jong and Ziyech, he was sold to a bigger club, in this case, Manchester United, for a total of €39 million in September 2020.
Even after these stars left Amsterdam, ten Hag restocked his attacking talents, replacing Ziyech with 20-year-old Brazilian winger Antony, who has nine goals and nine assists in all competitions so far in 2020/21. 27-year-old attacking midfielder Zakaria Labyad has taken Van de Beek’s spot, scoring eight times this year. Additionally, left-winger Dusan Tadic, one of the remaining starters from the 2018/19 team, leads Ajax with 15 goals and 12 assists.
In 2020/21, Ajax have scored 68 goals from only 21 matches played in the Eredivisie (including a 13-0 drubbing of VVV-Venlo on October 24), and are six points clear at the top of the table, with one fewer match played. As a result, ten Hag is on course to win his second league title in three years (Last year’s season was not finished due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Of course, Ajax is the most successful club in the Netherlands, winners of 34 league titles. The club is also famed for its development of the influential Total Football philosophy, beginning in the early 1970s under manager Rinus Michels and global icon Johan Cruyff. Ajax’s youth development and academy have also produced some of the sport’s greatest players. It did help ten Hag that Ajax were able to recruit De Jong, Ziyech and Van de Beek, along with developing prized defender Matthijs de Ligt.
Ten Hag Influence at Ajax
However, it was ten Hag who was tasked with grouping all of the young talented stars together, in order to make the system work. His influence and tactics have brought the most out of Ajax, as they have played some of the most exciting football over the last few seasons. It was ten Hag who guided Ajax to the club’s first league and cup double in 17 years. It was ten Hag whose tactics enabled his players to reach the semifinals of the Champions League for the first time in over two decades.
And it has been ten Hag who has continued to push Ajax since the departure of major stars, maintaining the attacking free-flowing style of play Cruyff himself championed.
After this season, ten Hag will have served as manager of Ajax for four seasons. There is a high probability he will have won the Eredivisie and KNVB Cup twice by then. He has already reached the semi-finals of a major European competition and might do so again in the UEFA Europa League this spring. His Ajax teams have brought the club back into the world football consciousness.
The chance for ten Hag to manage in a bigger European league will come soon, and he will be ready.