Erik ten Hag has already become a figure of interest. The Dutchman carries an intriguing aura of professionalism and mystery with his laconic press conferences and stern pitch side manner.
A former player who worked with Ten Hag on two separate occasions has disclosed information about what life is like living under his tutelage.
Sjoerd Overgoor was released as a teenager by FC Twente when Ten Hag was a coach but later reunited when the now-Manchester United manager took the helm at Go Ahead Eagles.
Overgoor spoke to The Manchester Evening News about the successful season he enjoyed with Ten Hag, which came as a surprise given the initial contentious atmosphere between the pair.
Having been given the no.12 shirt number and having experienced Ten Hag’s terse conversations, Overgoor was pleasantly awarded a starting position in the centre of midfield.
The defensive midfielder detailed the meticulous nature of Ten Hag’s style toward discipline and organisation.
“He wanted the yellow bibs together, the orange ones together and the blue ones together. His discipline was high with everything,” Overgoor said.
“Another example is, we did some light running in the woods in the second training session and he gave us groups to separate into.
“He told us the first group had to be finished in one minute and 50 seconds, while the other group were expected to finish in two minutes.
“I was part of the second group, but we completed the run in one minute and 50 seconds, which was early.
“Ten Hag said ‘no, if I say two minutes, it’s two minutes – not one minute and 50 seconds. In the beginning, we were really thinking what the f*** is this? He’s crazy, but I already knew him.”
United players have already witnessed Ten Hag’s strictness when it comes to running and matching specific orders.
Following the embarrassing 4-0 loss to Brentford at the start of the season, Ten Hag instructed each of his players to run 13.8 kilometres the next day: the exact difference in amount ran between the two sides during the defeat.
Ten Hag also joined in with this fatigued exercise as a marker of recognition and solidarity for the horrific display.
Overgoor noted more details about Ten Hag’s additions to the club,
“He put a window in his office and we thought that was because he wanted to see what we are doing in the hall and in the dressing room, basically just to take control, but he later explained the reason for it, which was actually brilliant,” Overgoor said.
“It was something that I didn’t think about.
“He said that if you have a closed door at the office, the players might think he’s having a conversation with important people, or they won’t know whether he’s there or not, which makes it difficult to knock.”
This addition of a window into the manager’s office rings bells of Sir Alex Ferguson‘s famous window in Carrington. An journalist from The Irish Times, Michael Walker, noted that Ferguson’s “office had a flow-to-ceiling window, overlooking the training pitch.”
Overgoor continued, “Because of the window, you could look inside the office and see him. The step to go into his office was much easier afterwards, I never thought about it like that. That’s him, it’s all about perfection, he thinks like that in training and with everything around him.”
When asked about what made Go Ahead Eagles become a force in the Eerste Divisie having finished mid-table the season prior to Ten Hag’s arrival, Overgoor stated that it was due to a lot of repetition in training.
“He did a lot of training with 11 players against zero and he only wanted diagonal balls, no straight balls, and every time we did that he would shout ‘STOP!’.
“We’d go back to the goalkeeper to start again and he would give us patterns. If we played to the left full-back, the left midfielder came for the ball, then the left-winger goes deep, or something like that, and the move would have to be executed well.
“After that, he would give us a new pattern. Every time we did something not good, he would shout ‘STOP’.
Overgoor recalls that this was very tedious to being with but the team started to appreciate that the movements were recognised during matches, it had become second nature.
“From that moment, we enjoyed it more, we could see the difference it made,” he said.
Ten Hag has already mentioned the modern training tool ‘automatism’ on a couple of occasions as United manager. His use of this coaching technique highlights the machine-like force of footballing intelligence that he desires his United side to be.
You can read more about automatism, which Overgoor describes, here.
Although Overgoor assumed his relationship with the former boss was rather frosty, in retrospect he has realised the excellent man-management that pushed a subpar Eagles side to promotion.
“I said after five weeks, I think he hates me, but no, he pushed me every time,” Overgoor explained.
“A lot of coaches who didn’t push me in my career, maybe I was 20 per cent less and the whole team gets 20 per cent more and more when everyone is really pushed. You see the confidence growing after a couple of months.
“Because he wanted everything to be perfect, he changed our mindset, we wanted to be perfect as well and we believed in his style. We knew how we had to play, so the confidence of the team became really good and that’s the reason we got promoted.”
Buying into Ten Hag’s obsession with perfectionism seems to be key if the current crop of United players aim to be successful under the Dutchman’s stewardship.
Overgoor outlined how the squad must respond to their new boss’s coaching and management style, saying it was especially important that they are patient.
“When you look at all the teams he’s coached, the first four or five months, each month we played better, but the results were not so good like we were ninth or 10th place at Go Ahead Eagles.
“After the winter, we got better and it was the same with Utrecht and the same with Ajax. He needs time. Look at Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, the first year was not so good but he needed time because he had a whole different approach to the club.
“The discipline is really important, I’ve already seen interviews with Bruno Fernandes when he talks about that. You can’t change it [results] immediately after last year, you can’t go from nothing to perfect in just a couple of months – it takes time.”
Discipline. Desire. Determination. Three buzzwords which Overgoor seems to imply are intrinsic to Erik ten Hag’s character.
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