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Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag on Alejandro Garnacho, Lisandro Martínez and Johan Cruyff – interview

"We want to be successful, but it's got to be long term," the former Ajax boss told UEFA.com as he talked over his plans at Manchester United.

Ten Hag: 'We need a winning culture'

Defeats in his first two games as Manchester United coach prompted fears that Erik ten Hag was destined to disappoint at Old Trafford, but the former Ajax boss has found his feet since, steering the Red Devils to the knockout phase of the UEFA Europa League (where they meet Barcelona) and driving them to upper reaches of the Premier League table.

The 52-year-old spoke to UEFA.com at the recent Elite Coaches Forum at UEFA Headquarters in Nyon about his ambitions for United, the players who have defined his first months in charge and the coaching visionary who continues to inspire him.

On his first few months at Manchester United

I'm fine and I'm happy there. I was looking for a new challenge and Manchester United was a big club, but obviously less successful [in the] last couple of years, so there's huge talent to restore that big club [to] where they belong. It's not only about training the team. It's about changing the culture, getting a winning culture, and that's what I aim for, but when I say 'I', no: 'We'. We have to do it together.

Manchester United is a great club, [there are] big fans all over the world, it's a very global club. I'm really happy to be there, to be part of it. We want to be successful, but it's got to be long term.

Ten Hag won three league titles and two Dutch Cups at Ajax from 2017 to 2022
Ten Hag won three league titles and two Dutch Cups at Ajax from 2017 to 2022Getty Images

On his motivation

Every day, I expect the best from myself. I want to challenge myself. And, together with my coaches, I want to get the best out of the players. We want to create a good team but I also want to maximise the performances of the players.

We work 24/7, that's clear, because you never get rid of football. You never get rid of your team, but you also need to step back at times. I like to jog or bike or to play golf. Or to go to restaurants or the cinema. I also like to go on holiday. Of course, I don't have a lot of time for it. I like to go to Switzerland or Austria and, when the weather's nice, Italy or Spain. But football is always in your head. It's in your mind. You work with it all the time.

"The manager has ­created a ­playing style that produces a better quality of chances – and we are ­really playing forward-thinking ­football. Everyone at United is excited again."

Marcus Rashford, Man United forward

On meeting Barcelona in the knockout round play-offs

I think Barcelona and [us] as well [would] have preferred to play [this match] in the final. We are looking forward [to it], it [takes] a lot of energy searching for that finish, and it will be a great game. Hopefully, everyone is fit for Barcelona and for us. So, we see a game [that will be played] at the highest level.

As a player, I admire [Xavi Hernández]. Barcelona, the way [they] played with him: he was such an important part of the team, you can see that the philosophy he now brings [to the team] is his Barcelona. I really like his team, the attacking way of play. I think he is [heading] in the right direction. I think it’s going to be a good challenge between Manchester United and Barcelona.

Man United and Barcelona in Europa League showdown

On Johan Cruyff's influence

I think a lot of Johan Cruyff. I admired him a lot from my office in Amsterdam, I had two pictures on the wall. One as a player, Johan Cruyff, and one as a coach, Johan Cruyff. He, in particular, was thinking outside the box and he brought a lot to football. Football is always about winning, but he wanted to do it in a certain way. It has to be in an adventurous way, in an entertaining way.

That was the way he wanted to express it, how he wanted the game to be played and we really have to credit him with that, we have to value that, because football is for the people to watch. That's why I'm so happy to be a manager at the Theatre of Dreams.

Johan Cruyff: A legend remembered