Manchester United

Who is Mitchell van der Gaag?

Jamie Spencer
Mitchell van der Gaag is expected to join Man Utd as Erik ten Hag' assistant manager
Mitchell van der Gaag is expected to join Man Utd as Erik ten Hag' assistant manager / Soccrates Images/GettyImages
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Manchester United have announced that Erik ten Hag will become the club’s permanent new manager, replacing interim Ralf Rangnick once the season is over.

Ten Hag has signed a three-year contract with the option of a fourth that promises to give him time to make his mark at Old Trafford as the club looks for yet another fresh start.

The 52-year-old Dutchman, who famously led Ajax to within a kick of the 2019 Champions League final and a perfect winning record in the competition’s 2021/22 group stage, has no small task ahead of him to restore the glory days at Old Trafford where so many have already failed.

Ten Hag has had a handful of famous names among his coaching staff in Amsterdam, including 1995 Champions League winners Michael Reiziger and Winston Bogarde, as well as another former Ajax star in Richard Witschge.

There has been also much talk of former England manager Steve McClaren being part of his new staff at United. McClaren was famously assistant manager to Alex Ferguson during the 1998/99 treble season and has also enjoyed success in Dutch football.

It is believed that United do have an offer on the table for former star striker Robin van Persie to join the backroom team. The 2012/13 Premier League title winner is currently on the staff at boyhood club Feyenoord, where he finished his playing career.


Mitchell van der Gaag background

One name expected to follow Ten Hag to Manchester is existing assistant Mitchell van der Gaag – take a look at them stood next to each other and you might be confused as to who is who.

Van der Gaag, 50, is two years younger than Ten Hag, and soon moved into management and coaching when he retired from playing in 2007 following a lengthy career.

A centre-back who came through the youth ranks at PSV Eindhoven, Van der Gaag went on to play for a handful of clubs during his career – including Motherwell in Scotland for two years. He was most successful in Portugal with Madeiran club Maritimo and finished off in Saudi Arabia.

Van der Gaag returned to Maritimo after his player career ended aged 35, appointed as B team coach. He went on to also manage the first-team and then Belenenses, until a heart scare that saw him become unwell and collapse on the touchline during a game led to a break.

He returned to the dugout with a short-lived spell at Cypriot club Ermis in 2015 after two years out of coaching, before heading to lower league Dutch football with FC Eindhoven and working his way up the ladder with Excelsior Rotterdam and NAC Breda.

Van der Gaag had never worked with Ten Hag before moving to Ajax in 2019 as Jong Ajax head coach. The pair had both spent time at Utrecht and De Graafschap as players, but never crossed paths in doing so. Yet it has only taken a short time to form a tight working relationship.

It was as recently as the summer of 2021 when Van der Gaag was promoted to Ajax first-team assistant coach to work directly alongside Ten Hag.


Mitchell van der Gaag coaching style

He is known as a coach with skill at organising defences, as well as his man management, also effectively serving as a second pair of eyes for Ten Hag, who himself takes a hands-on role in terms of coaching on the training pitch.


Listen now to 90min's brand new podcast, Talking Transfers, with Scott Saunders & Graeme Bailey. On this week's show they discuss Man Utd's appointment of Erik ten Hag, as well as the latest on the futures of Tomas Soucek & Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.


Van der Gaag has spoken in the past about his preference to speak to players individually about what they do well and things that need improving, prioritising one on one meetings over group sessions.

“Players increasingly prefer individual conversations. That takes a lot more time and energy, but I have the feeling that I can reach my players better that way,” he explained in an interview a number of years ago when still coaching abroad.

The logic behind that is to ensure that every member of the squad feels valued, because you can never know when even fringe players might have an important role to play. That level of man management is perhaps why he has created a reputation as a fine developer of young talent.

Although not a shouter, Van der Gaag, by his own admission, wouldn’t shy away from conflict.

As much as Ten Hag, he could have a huge role in whipping Manchester United into shape.


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