Mitchell van der Gaag will solve biggest problem in Manchester United dressing room – Steven Railston


Mitchell van der Gaag was pictured writing notes at Selhurst Park as Manchester United played Crystal Palace on the final day of the season. The Dutchman sat alongside Erik ten Hag, Steve McClaren, John Murtough and Richard Arnold as United lost 1-0.

The appointments of Van der Gaag and McClaren were yet to be announced, but their presence at Selhurst with Ten Hag was everything except official confirmation they had joined the club as assistant coaches. Although Van der Gaag was pictured sharing jokes with McClaren, the pair weren’t laughing after full-time. It’s likely the size of the challenge ahead dawned on them.

McClaren worked under Sir Alex Ferguson for two trophy-laden years between 1999 and 2001 and he’ll need no time to ease back into life at Carrington. The reaction to McClaren’s return was mixed but it seems like a pragmatic decision – his credentials are obvious.

ALSO READ: Manchester United issue response to viral footage of Richard Arnold meeting with fans.

Ten Hag also asked Van der Gaag to join him in Manchester and for good reason. While Van der Gaag only spent last season working as Ten Hag’s assistant at Ajax, where they won the Eredivisie together, he’s built a reputation as a respected Dutch coach.

Van der Gaag’s coaching career began in Portugal with Maritimo and Belenenses, whom he led back to the Primeira Liga by winning the Segunda Liga. Van der Gaag then returned to the Netherlands in 2015, where he worked with FC Eindhoven.

After a year with Eindhoven, Van der Gaag spent two with Excelsior and one with NAC before joining Ajax in 2019. The 50-year-old spent two seasons coaching Ajax’s reserves before joining the first-team and that’s when his relationship with Ten Hag blossomed .

Ten Hag and Van der Gaag established healthy relationships within the Ajax playing squad during that time. Ten Hag is introverted with the media, but that’s not the same manager who danced with his players after winning the Eredivisie title.

The pair’s approach to man-management clearly worked at Ajax and they’ll be hoping for the same response at United. The club’s dressing room is broken and it needs new voices to address that. Ten Hag, Van der Gaag and McClaren are those voices.

In 2018, Van der Gaag discussed his approach to man-management and it’s something that the dressing room desperately needs.


“I used to have discussions with the whole team, but I notice that I am moving away from that more and more,” Van der Gaag told Voetbal International. “They are increasingly becoming individual conversations.

“That takes a lot more time and energy, but I have the feeling that I can reach my players better that way. I sit down with players every week and we look at how he has played together with the footage.

“As a result, I can demand much more and you also get more responsibility from the player. They can hide in a group. At the top, it’s all about content and speed. If you do not have that, you will have to be able to play football very well to compensate for that. “

United’s players did far too much hiding last season. There was a frightening lack of accountability for their gutless performances and that is set to change. Van der Gaag has already warned they won’t be able to hide in the group for much longer.

His individual approach should spark improvement from the many who are devoid of confidence. Ralf Rangnick’s backroom staff attempted to do the same but they were underqualified for the position they found themselves in.

There was genuine shock and interest from America when Rangnick appointed Chris Amas as his assistant coach. Amas had just been sacked at Toronto after suffering the biggest loss of the club’s history and he had also been sacked at the New York Red Bulls.

Van der Gaag and McClaren can only be an improvement.

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