Ten Hag showed bravery by picking 18-year-old to start first Eredivisie game as Ajax close in on title

Over the past few weeks, Manchester United fans have been calling for young players to be selected at the expense of under-performing first team stars. Aside from Anthony Elanga, who has been a regular since early January, those shouts have fallen on deaf ears.

Ralf Rangnick has brought Hannibal, Alejandro Garnacho, Alvaro Fernandez and Shola Shoretire into the first team squad, while Will Fish, Dan Gore, Charlie Wellens and Sam Mather have also trained with the first team. But only Garnacho has made it onto the pitch, as a last minute substitute against Chelsea.

With little to play for aside from Europa League football next season, Rangnick is still being overly cautious. He is holding back on picking the talented teenagers, and its doubtful they get a call for the final two games.

New manager Erik ten Hag is a lot braver. He made a very bold selection at the weekend with Ajax’s title charge on the line.

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Ten Hag’s bold selection

Ajax are fighting for the title, four points clear of PSV Eindhoven, who beat them in the KNVB Cup final. Any slip-up from Ten Hag’s side will be seized upon.

Ten Hag’s bold selection call to select Youri Regeer at the weekend deserves a lot of praise. The 18-year-old was picked to start his first ever Eredivisie game.

Regeer is one of 21 young players handed their Ajax debuts under Ten Hag, being selected to start a cup match last December and another in January. He had not played a first team game since.

Ten Hag then called on him to make his Eredivisie debut on Saturday, starting at right-back. This was an even bolder call and show of faith, considering Regeer is a central midfielder.

But such is the trust of Ten Hag in his system, and his academy players, that he felt starting Regeer in such a huge game was the right call.

Ajax won 3-0, with Regeer helping to keep a clean sheet and playing 66 minutes. He completed 91 per cent of his passes and created one chance, producing a confident display.

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Regeer told Ajax’s website: “I hadn’t played for four weeks myself due to an injury. Last Monday I made my first minutes in Young Ajax again.

“I did not expect that I could start so quickly in the base in the first team. But when I got it through the training the Thursday before, I thought: I have to grab this opportunity with both hands.”

He explained that Ten Hag told him to play his own game, but functionally for the rest of the team, and to ‘not do anything crazy’, adding: “You know there is a lot of pressure, because we want to become champions.”

Just the previous week Ten Hag had handed a first ever professional debut to 21-year-old Liam van Gelderen.

Hope for United’s academy under Ten Hag

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The bravery shown by Ten Hag told a lot about his approach and investment in youth. He has worked incredibly closely with Ajax’s academy, and this is one of the key reasons Manchester United felt he was a great fit.

United’s academy is blossoming right now, whether it be talented players thriving on loan like James Garner or Dylan Levitt, or those who are warming Ralf Rangnick’s bench, or the FA Youth Cup finalist whizkids.

Ten Hag could be the perfect manager to give opportunities to these players, and he has proven he won’t be afraid to do it in big moments. His selection of Regeer at the weekend underlined this, moving his side closer to a third Eredivisie title.

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