Manchester United managerial candidate and current Ajax manager Erik ten Hag reportedly wants an assistant on his staff who has experience, or rather a “connection,” with the club. After a rumored interview earlier this week reports have come out suggesting that ten Hag wants someone on his staff who can help ease the transition at the club as well as offer support on the training ground and on the touchline.
There are a few candidates for this role, but here are the 3 most likely considering their recent prevalence in coaching and past connection to Manchester United.
Robin van Persie
Oh, Robin van Persie.
The Flying Dutchman is a new name in coaching circles, working at Feyenoord as an assistant since his retirement in 2020, but in terms of familiarity with United he’s got the most recent connection. He arrived and led the way to the Premier League title in his first season at the club, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last as manager, and played under 2 managers in his remaining 2 seasons at the club as both the team and his own form began to deteriorate. He ended his career as a league champion with Feyenoord before transitioning to a role on the staff, where he now serves as a co-head coach of one of the youth teams and a field coach for the first team.
In terms of fitting in at United, van Persie would likely be a welcome sight on the touchline. His limited experience as a coach means he’d probably not have too large of a role, but he understands some of the modern expectations and frustrations in the culture with regards to the teams performances and ability to one day challenge for the Premier League title again. van Persie, like the next candidate, could also help the squad with his experience as a striker and striker coach. Finishing and scoring consistently have been problems this season especially, and there will almost certainly be a new face or two joining in the summer to address that position. Who better to guide a new potential star striker than the man who catapulted United to success in his debut campaign?
Ruud van Nistelrooy
Ruud van Nistelrooy, a fan favorite of the early 2000s and one of the most prolific goalscorers in Premier League history, has enjoyed a fairly low key introduction into management since ending his accomplished playing career. He joined the staff at PSV as a striker’s coach for the youth team and reserve team setup in 2013, where he stayed until 2016. In that time he also served as an assistant for the Netherlands national team, serving under Guus Hiddink, Danny Blind, Ronald Koeman, Frank De Boer, and now Louis van Gaal. Last summer he was named manager of Jong PSV, the PSV reserve team, where he’s had mixed results, winning 10, drawing 7, and losing 14.
So it’s safe to say that Ruud has spent time around plenty of the top minds in Dutch football over the last couple decades, and also Frank De Boer. He, like the other names in this piece, has not worked with Erik ten Hag before, but his United connection is strong and he’s had plenty of work in Dutch football since his retirement to justify adding him as an assistant. Working with youth and reserves is good experience for a club like United that needs fluidity through multiple levels of recruitment and development. He fits an assistant profile on the surface, and might settle some uneasiness from fans about appointing a manager with no ties to the club or English football.
A legendary member of the 1999 Treble team, Jaap Stam is a well travelled player who has gathered plenty of experience as a manager as well. Unfortunately, not all of it was that great. Recently sacked by FC Cincinnati of Major League Soccer, Stam also had stints with Reading in England, PEC Zwolle and Feyenoord in the Netherlands, and 3 years of experience managing the Ajax youth team.
Stam’s current availability for this level of job shouldn’t be in question, and his song is still sung by fans to this day, but his record might make him the 3rd of these options. He might have plenty of experience, but his familiarity with the Ajax setup predates Erik ten Hag’s arrival, and he hasn’t been able to make a real impact wherever he’s been. He spent just a few months at Feyenoord, leaving the job in October of his first season, and had a very poor record at FC Cincinnati. He would of course be an assistant and not the one calling the shots, but he’s had several chances in the hot seat and likely wants more. That may not be what a manager trying to introduce order and stability in a new environment wants in an assitant.