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Guardiola and Hag: A tale of two coaches who worked together and are now asunder!



Erik ten Hag and Pep Guardiola meet in the biggest FA Cup final ever played as managers of Man Utd and Manchester City, but they have worked together previously in their careers

When Erik ten Hag was in charge of Bayern Munich’s B team some at the club had a nickname for him: Mini Pep. Before any follically challenged readers write in to complain, this had more to do than just a lack of hair.

The two men didn’t see an awful lot of each other at Saebener Strasse. In many ways, their jobs were quite separate. Their teams were competing in different leagues with different targets. But what they did share was an obsession for football and this led to the nickname that Ten Hag was, in effect, just a Dutch Guardiola.

Ten Hag during his time in charge of Bayern Munich II

In reality, the idea Ten Hag is a ‘mini’ version of Guardiola doesn’t really pass the litmus test. He’s actually the older man by 11 months, for starters. But the fact that’s how he was viewed during the time they shared in Munich also says a lot about their career paths which have converged this season and will do so again most compellingly of all at Wembley, when Manchester United will try and stop Manchester City taking a significant step towards the treble

Ten Hag gave up a job in the Eredivisie with Go Ahead Eagles, having just got the club promoted for the first time in 17 years, to take over a side that played their football in Germany’s fourth tier. Ten Hag once called it an “unlogical move”. Guardiola, meanwhile, had started just his own job in Munich after his year-long post-Barcelona sabbatical.

He might have begun his ascent to coaching with an eclectic end to his playing career, but his apprenticeship was one season in charge of Barcelona’s B team. Ever since his first season at the Nou Camp and that wondrous treble, he has had his pick of clubs. City spent years building the conditions to attract him to the Etihad.


Ten Hag, meanwhile, moved to Munich to take charge of a group of players who were looking to swap his training sessions for Guardiola’s. He spent two years in the job, from 2013 to 2015, and at that point, United might still have had dreams of landing Guardiola themselves one day. It’s fair to say the unknown Dutchman taking charge of games in places such as Wurzburg, Buchbach and Aschaffenburg was not on their radar.

But eight years later here we are, counting down the hours until what might just be the biggest Manchester derby ever played, in the biggest FA Cup final of all, with the two coaches who swapped tactics and theories in Munich now sharing a Wembley touchline in a game screened all around the world.

For Ten Hag, the opportunity to move to Germany and learn at the feet of Guardiola, came about due to links with Matthias Sammer, who as sports director of the DFB, the German football association, had taken an interest in his vision for developing young players. Sammer had even tried to recruit him as Germany’s Under-21 manager previously.

There were success stories, too. Pierre-Emile Hjoberg, a player who has now found his way to the Premier League, began with Ten Hag, graduated to Guardiola and played in the 2014 DFB Cup final. But the target was also promotion and Bayern’s B team twice agonisingly missed out on that feat.

For Ten Hag, however, it was a worthwhile career diversion. He got to watch countless Guardiola training sessions and compiled notes on what he saw and what he felt he could use going forward.


Speaking to author Maarten Meijer for his book Ten Hag: The Biography, released last year, the Manchester United manager discussed his time in Munich.

“I do not want to compare myself to Guardiola, his list of honours is unparalleled. But Guardiola certainly inspired me,” he said.

“Every coach wants to play attacking football like his teams do. Adventurous, fast, dynamic, technically excellent and with so much joy. Every coach who likes attractive football strives for that. Of course, I regularly talked with him about that. But most of all, I watched very carefully. His training sessions are a joy to watch.”

Sammer felt that Ten Hag was “a mixture between a Dutchman and a German”, which he defined as a coach wedded to the idea of beautiful football but also one with a disciplinarian streak. It’s a categorisation that people at Old Trafford and Carrington would probably agree with after his first year in charge of the club.

The quality of football at United has certainly improved this year, even if it remains some way short of Guardiola’s creation across town, but then these remains early days in what Ten Hag sees as a long-term project.

Guardiola had a successful three years in Munich

There are also reasons to believe there is more to come. Goalkeeper Lukas Raeder played for Ten Hag at Bayern Munich II, but also trained under Guardiola with the first team, and he could see similarities even back then.

“The football philosophy was very similar to Pep Guardiola’s football philosophy,” Raeder told Karan Tejwani for his book on Ajax’s recent rise, Glorious Reinvention.

“He wanted his team to have good passing qualities, keep the ball and always play with the ball. His teams needed to keep the ball well. That was the most important aspect.”

It’s hard to quantify exactly which parts of Guardiola’s approach have inspired Ten Hag. If anything, he’s proven himself to be pragmatic at United, rather than wedded to one particular idea. But his Ajax teams were similar to Guardiola’s approach and it’s clear how much he admires and respects his opposite number in Manchester.

“Pep was a pioneer, he changed football in Germany,” Ten Hag told Sueddeutsche Zeitung in 2019. “I learned a lot from him — how he gets his philosophy onto the pitch, build-up play, transition, attack, he had drills for everything.

“Sometimes in groups, sometimes with all parts of the team, sometimes with a player by himself.


“Everything was incredibly fixated on detail. His philosophy is sensational, what he did in Barcelona, Bayern and now with Manchester City, that attacking and attractive style sees him win a lot. It’s this structure that I’ve tried to implement with Ajax.”

At United, Ten Hag has used his full-backs in a similar, if not quite as daring, way as Guardiola and in Meijer’s book he spoke about how that was one area he had been interested in when watching his sessions with the Bayern Munich first team.

“I was able to experience his approach up-close, and I learned a lot from that,” he said. “Guardiola stands for dominant and attractive football, a way of playing that appeals to me. I remember how Pep practised moving in with the full-backs.”

For Guardiola, the presence of Ten Hag in Munich was something different. He was an aspiring coach in charge of a group that could produce players for the first team. The Catalan might have been interested in what the Dutchman was doing, but the relationship would obviously be different at that stage.

“We met in Munich, when I just arrived I remember he was training the second team in the same facilities. I approached him to say hi and introduced myself,” Guardiola told Sky Sports before the first derby of the season.


“He came up to our office sometimes to talk football, sometimes we needed to make training, discuss some players, not much – we were not going out for dinner in that period.

“The second team for Bayern Munich is just a step [for a manager], you will not be all the time there. He went to Holland and finished at the most important club in Holland, Ajax of Amsterdam, what he has done with his teams speaks for himself.”

Guardiola is right when he calls the job of second-team manager for a club like Bayern a step in a coach’s career. He started with Barcelona’s second team himself. Ten Hag was never going to make a career coaching at that level of German football.

He was too ambitious for that. Too committed to making the most of his coaching career and seeing just how far he could take teams. He lasted two seasons in Bavaria, twice narrowly missing out on promotion, before returning to the Netherlands and taking charge of Utrecht.

“Both [Guardiola and Ten Hag] want to have their success, and there was a time where it seemed difficult for Ten Hag to coach the second team,” remembered Raeder in Glorious Reinvention.


“This was because the second team sometimes had to give players to the first team or some player from the first team would drop down to the second team and then he had to integrate them, possibly even just one day before a match.

“You could feel that there were sometimes problems with it because he’d make his plans and would want to execute it in a certain way, but that may not have always been possible.”

Guardiola and Ten Hag weren’t equals at that point in their careers, but when they share the touchline at Wembley they will do so as the figureheads of Manchester’s two football institutions.

“I learned a lot from him,” said Ten Hag. “I have never regretted it. Working at such a big club with such influential personalities as Guardiola or Matthias Sammer was like winning the lottery.”

The journey of Guardiola and Ten Hag to this date with destiny is inextricably linked, even if it’s the latter who took more from the time they spent together in Munich, when the idea of them contesting one of the biggest FA Cup finals there has ever been must have looked remote.



Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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FA Cup

FA Cup win could be glorious United farewell for Ten Hag



FA Cup - Final - Manchester City v Manchester United - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - May 25, 2024 Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes and manager Erik ten Hag celebrate with the trophy after winning the FA Cup Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridg

If Manchester United’s thrilling and surprise FA Cup victory over Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday was manager Erik ten Hag’s final game as their manager, then what a send-off it was.

Teenagers Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo scored to lead United to a 2-1 upset of the holders and Premier League champions as speculation swirled about Ten Hag’s future.

Although the 54-year-old Dutchman told ITV he had no doubt he would be back and has said he has received the backing of the club’s owners all season, he was less confident in his post-game press conference.

“I don’t think about this,” Ten Hag said when asked about his future. “I’m in a project and we are exactly where we want to be. We’re constructing a team. When I took over it was a mess at United, and we are on our way to construct a team for the future.

“The team is developing, the team is winning and the team also plays to an identity. What you need to play is to be available, you need a strong squad in top football, and especially when you play in England, the Premier League is so competitive.”


Garnacho and Mainoo were two of United’s bright sparks in a disappointing season in which they finished a worst-ever eighth in the Premier League era.

The 19-year-olds were in fine form at a sun-drenched Wembley and after the final whistle defender Lisandro Martinez hoisted a grinning Ten Hag into the air to celebrate.

“We are delighted for the manager,” midfielder Scott McTominay said.


Ten Hag, who kissed the trophy before lifting it in front of the United fans, became the first manager to beat Pep Guardiola’s City in a major domestic final and ended their 35-game unbeaten run in open play.

“It is a glorious feeling to win the FA Cup final at Wembley,” said United co-owner Jim Ratcliffe.


“Manchester United clearly were not the favourites to win today but they played with total commitment and skill and overcame one of the great teams in football. We are all very proud of the players and the staff who work tirelessly to support them.”

In Ten Hag’s two seasons in charge, United have played in three Wembley finals and lifted two trophies (they won last season’s League Cup). If sacking after such a positive finale seems implausible, however, there is precedent.

Louis Van Gaal was fired two days after United’s 2-1 FA Cup win over Crystal Palace in 2016 after the team finished fifth in the Premier League.

“We have to keep going, and I’m not satisfied with it, we have to do better and if they don’t want me anymore, then I go anywhere else to win trophies, because that is what I did my whole career,” Ten Hag said. “That is what they always tell me.”

Guardiola had kind words for United’s manager.


“(United) have to take a decision. So, I don’t know but of course he’s a lovely person, an extraordinary manager,” Guardiola said.

Ten Hag’s press conference ended abruptly when a reporter pointed out that eighth in the Premier League was not good enough for United.

“Sorry to say this, but you don’t have any knowledge about football, about managing a football team,” Ten Hag said. “When you don’t have the players available, then you can’t perform, so simple as that.

“And if that is the opinion, it is no problem. Then I go anywhere else and I go and keep winning trophies.”



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FA Cup

Erik ten Hag now finds his voice, “you can’t sack me, he tells Man United



Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has issued a defiant response in the wake of reports claiming that Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the club hierarchy have already decided to sack him.

According to UK publication, Mirror, Erik ten Hag has warned the Manchester United hierarchy he will ‘go and win trophies somewhere else’ if he isn’t wanted.

The Dutchman’s position is understood to be in major jeopardy after overseeing the club’s worst league campaign in over 30 years, although he did end the season with a flourish by beating Manchester United in the FA Cup final.

Reports on Friday, however, suggested that Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the club’s top brass have already decided to replace the former Ajax chief – and that even winning the FA Cup would not be enough for Ten Hag to save his job.

But in the aftermath of United’s big win at Wembley, a defiant Ten Hag fired back when he was quizzed over the latest reports relating to his future.


Speaking in his post-match press conference, Ten Hag said of rumours the club will sack him: “If they don’t want me any more, I go somewhere else and win trophies, that’s what I’ve done my whole career.”

It’s been outlined this week that the club have been sounding out potential replacements for Ten Hag with other clubs, notably Chelsea, in the market for a new manager this summer.

Sky Sports claimed that former Manchester United  coach Kieran McKenna’s representatives have already held talks with the club after the Northern Irishman guided Ipswich Town to successive promotions.

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FA Cup

Against all odds, Man Utd win FA Cup



FA Cup - Final - Manchester City v Manchester United - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - May 25, 2024 Manchester United's Lisandro Martinez and manager Erik ten Hag celebrate after winning the FA Cup REUTERS/Hannah Mcka

Manchester United have won the FA Cup after a 2-1 win against city rivals, Manchester City.

The two Manchester clubs have reached the final of England’s oldest cup competition again and City were hoping to retain the trophy after winning last year’s final.

Pep Guardiola’s side had won the last three meetings between City and United and the Reds approached the FA Cup final as underdogs again – but the game didn’t go as most predicted.

Against all odds, United claimed a stunning victory against City thanks to first-half goals from Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo, which proved enough for the win.

United were outstanding and looked like a different team after a dismal season. Erik ten Hag’s tactics worked perfectly and City only started to threaten late in the second half.


Jeremy Doku provided City with a glimmer of hope in the dying moments of the match by finding the bottom corner, but it wasn’t enough and the Blues slumped to a defeat.

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