‘The Kuip is special, but Wembley … pff!’

‘The Kuip is special, but Wembley … pff!’

NOS Football

“For me it can be in the Netherlands, but it’s not so nice to everyone else in this room.”

When NOS reporter Bert Maalderink asks at a press conference ahead of Manchester United’s FA Cup final against Manchester City (Saturday at 4 p.m.) if he can interview Erik ten Hag in Dutch, he gets a straight answer. In a room full of English journalists, Ten Hag doesn’t seem so neat.

Ten Hag looks forward to cup final: ‘De Kuip is special, but Wembley…. pff!’

Language purists will have their comments, but in general Ten Hag knows how to express himself just fine in English. Behind the table speaks a coach with confidence. A headstrong Tukker who in his debut year has brought life back into one of the world’s biggest soccer clubs.

Winning the League Cup at the end of February was already a big boost. Taking a prize at Wembley is obviously something big for any footballer. More important was getting third place in the Premier League, which means United will be back in the Champions League next season.

Ten Hag gives himself enough

And so in his first season as United’s coach, Ten Hag deserves a sufficient, he himself agrees. “I think we have done very well. Especially if you see where this club comes from and if you see the development of our team.” Last season United finished sixth, well behind the rest.

Ten Hag can still turn his sufficient into a fat enough. After all, dessert still awaits. Again at Wembley. This time the final of the FA Cup, that much more important cup tournament in England.

“I have experienced enough cup finals as a player and as a coach,” Ten Hag begins. “In the Netherlands we have the Kuip, a special place. But yes… Wembley, pff. I think Wembley might be the best stadium in the world. To be in the final there again, then, is great.”

Erik ten Hag after winning the League Cup at Wembley

Opponent is that other club from Manchester, coach Pep Guardiola’s City. The Spaniard made his team national champions for the fifth time in six years. And Saturday a week from now, City can win the Champions League for the first time, against Internazionale in Istanbul.

It makes Ten Hag’s team, which finished 14 points behind City in the Premier League, the underdog in the final. “A big match with a big opponent. It’s another good test for us and I’m looking forward to that.”

City’s level. That’s where Ten Hag wants to go with his United. Preferably as soon as possible, but the former Ajax coach knows it will take time. “After the summer we start again and then everyone will be at zero again,” he said.

Next level

According to Simon Stone, BBC club follower, Ten Hag has a lot of work to do before he can actually mount an attack on City. “Nobody, including Guardiola, can make a championship team out of a selection without top players. United now has to go to the next level.”

BBC follower: ‘Ten Hag has a lot to do before he can really challenge City’

“They need a top striker, as well as a central midfielder. And those players are expensive. So United will have to invest heavily to compete with Manchester City in the Premier League next year,” said Stone, who is very positive about the Dutch coach.

“Ten Hag has proven himself to be a good manager. Twelve months back it was a mess here and nobody knew where the club was going. Now the fans have confidence that Ten Hag is the right man at the right time.”

Kayleigh Williams