The sight of Manchester United’s Class of ’22 lifting the FA Youth Cup at Old Trafford on Wednesday was one to cheer supporters on, but the good news didn’t end there last week.
The academy has brought some cheer to a terrible season and it was a rare experience to see smiles on the faces of Old Trafford during the week, on the pitch and in the stands.
Erik ten Hag will be delighted to see the talent come through the academy, but his immediate focus will be on turning the first team around and there is an awful lot of work to do.
READ MORE: Erik ten Hag’s Ajax success story and how he can repeat his job at Man United
If the youngsters were in the mood, by the start of the week the first team would have lowered the standards again and reached new depths by losing 4-0 at Brighton.
The arrival of Ten Hag and a coach who is actually qualified to work with these players will bring some improvement, but this is also a summer where the winds of change will be blowing through M16.
Five senior players are out of contract and are leaving – Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Edinson Cavani – and there are still a number of players who either want to leave or need to be led to the exit.
That will make enough room for incoming. Ralf Rangnick may have suggested as many as 10 new faces will be needed, but that’s wishful thinking, similar to some of his tactical hope-and-pray moments this season.
United will likely view this window as a success when half that number arrive, but it still gives them plenty to do in a shortened summer.
Next week the curtain will fall for this horror show in Selhurst Park, but within six weeks United will be back in preparation for the season and the new season will start on August 6 because of the World Cup.
Ten Hag also wants his selection to be as stable as possible ahead of the 16-day pre-season tour to Thailand and Australia. The foundations for next season will be laid in Bangkok, Melbourne and Perth and the 52-year-old will be looking to refine players here for the long haul, rather than wasting time on those who could still leave.
That means arranging as many transfers as possible before the July 8 departure date, so time really is of the essence. Every manager dreams of their club’s transfer business being finalized at the start of season preparation, but the reality is rarely so smooth.
However, that feels more essential than usual for United this summer. The complication of a manager change and the evolving football structure at Old Trafford could have delayed that even further, but Ten Hag showed this week that he knows there is no time to lose.
The morning after the night before in Amsterdam, he shifted his focus from Ajax to United. On Wednesday evening, a third Eredivisie title was secured and the party lasted well into the night, it was a perfect farewell for Ten Hag, who has his last game in his hands today.
But on Thursday morning, he was already planning to repeat that success at United. His laser-like focus on Ajax rounding out the title had led him to dodge any United press conference and try not to be distracted by his new job, but once the silverware was secured, that changed.
While most Amsterdammers had overcome their title-winning hangover, Ten Hag sat down with his assistant Mitchell van der Gaag, another man he wants to take with him in Steve McClaren and United’s football director John Murtough.
The desire to get started as soon as possible was an indication that Ten Hag is well aware of the task ahead. He could have finished the season with Ajax and gone on holiday before giving too much thought to the magnitude of the rebuilding at Old Trafford.
Instead, he threw himself into the project at the first opportunity he had. That is an encouraging approach for United.
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