Ten Hag’s surprise trip to watch Manchester United Under-21s – and what he learned


Erik ten Hag made a surprise appearance to watch Manchester United Under-21s play West Ham on Friday night and got a glimpse of the future.

Returning from Moldova – where he led the first team to a 2-0 Europa League win over Sheriff – in the early hours of Friday morning, Ten Hag was in attendance at the J Davidson Stadium in Altrincham.


He was joined by assistant Mitchell van der Gaag, technical director Darren Fletcher and Andy O’Boyle, the club’s assistant director of football.

Mark Dempsey and his United youth group were unaware of the first-team manager’s plans to attend their Premier League 2 game, which ended in a 1-1 draw – their fourth draw in a row .

“It shows he’s interested and it’s motivating for the boys and the fans,” Dempsey said. Athleticism. “I think it’s really encouraging for everyone involved that he’s here with his staff. It sends a positive vibe.

“I think one or two of our players have fallen if I’m being honest, but it’s good for him to come to us and it’s healthy for everyone at the football club.”

Ten Hag and his team sat down with academy principal Nick Cox, Dempsey and Travis Binnion on Monday – two weeks later than the meeting was originally scheduled – to discuss the Under-21 talent pool and make plans for the future.

“He’s shown a direct interest in what we do and that’s fabulous for us because at a lot of football clubs academy is academy and first team is first team,” Dempsey added.

For players who took part in Friday night’s draw, Ten Hag’s presence will serve as proof that the former Ajax manager is interested in monitoring their progress.

“The manager will decide and he will look at them and make up his mind,” Dempsey said when asked who was knocking on the first team’s door. “It’s a big jump from this level and we have a young group so it’s an even bigger jump. But you never know.

“If they’re good enough, I’m sure he’ll bring them in because he’s done that at Ajax before. They’re not afraid to bring in young players.

Here, Athleticism shines a light on the players who may have caught the eye of Ten Hag against West Ham…

Kobbie Mainoo

Aged 17, Mainoo is already playing with a maturity beyond his relative inexperience.

The central midfielder has all the raw attributes needed to be a force in the heart of the pitch and is comfortable in and out of possession.

In the first half against West Ham, Mainoo set the tempo early on, still looking to receive the ball, and proved to be a threat in the penalty area. One of his shots is off target, but the second is a half-volley that forces goalkeeper Krisztian Hegyi to make a save.

Mainoo has previously trained with Ten Hag (Photo: John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

The 17-year-old has already trained with Ten Hag and the first team on several occasions this season and has been named in Neil Young’s England Under-18 squad for their upcoming games against the Netherlands, the Faroe Islands and Belgium.

His status as the club’s young prodigy continues to grow and he has already received praise from fans, impressed with his performances in recent months.

charlie savage

The 19-year-old came off at half-time as he was due to train with the first team today but showed a willingness to get on the ball and try to control the pace of the game.

Savage seems to be a magnet for space on the pitch, often moving into empty pockets, and has tried to influence the game from a deep position.

Dempsey admitted it was a quieter game than usual from the central midfielder, although his desire to make himself available for his teammates has not waned.

Savage joined the first team during their pre-season trips to Thailand and Australia, so Ten Hag will know all about his potential, and he has continued to train in spurts with the Dutchman’s squad.

Charlie McNeil

McNeill has been training with the first team for two weeks and was part of Ten Hag’s squad for the Europa League trip against the Sheriff.

Although United failed to show a ruthless streak in front of goal against West Ham and the 19-year-old was often isolated in attack, he continued to work hard to lose possession.

“I asked him with about 15 minutes if he was okay and he said he wanted to stay, which is admirable,” Dempsey said. Athleticism asked about the teenager’s desire to play despite returning from Moldova.

“He has made good progress and is working hard. At one time he was a goalscorer, now he understands that he has to do more when he doesn’t have the ball and puts it in the back of the net.

McNeill made his first-team bow against Real Sociedad in the Europa League and Dempsey hopes it will be a stepping stone for the teenager to ‘kick off’ and continue his upward trajectory.

Omari Forson

Forson capped off a memorable day, which began with his appointment to the England Under-19 squad and ended with United’s equalizer against West Ham past Ten Hag.

“He deserved it (called),” Dempsey said. “He was exceptional.”

While most players wearing a United shirt had a quieter evening than they would have liked, Forson grew in the game and increased his work rate in the second half as United’s youngsters looked for an equalizer .

The creative midfielder, in Dempsey’s view, was not at his best against West Ham but arrived in the box at the right time to regroup from close range and earn a point for his side.

“He scored his goal and you can’t be the best man every week,” said the Under-21 manager.

Dempsey has already seen improvement in players who have been training with Ten Hag and the first team in recent weeks and wants that to continue throughout the season.

The fact that Ten Hag showed up unannounced on Friday night to see Dempsey’s side in action should give his young team confidence that a path is in place for them to progress to senior level.

(Top photo: John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)