Who is Mitchell van der Gaag, assistant Ten Hag reportedly wants to bring to Manchester United
According to The Mail, Erik Ten Hag wants to leave Ajax at the end of the season and be the next Manchester United manager.
This is exciting news for United, with Ten Hag widely viewed as the most exciting coach in Europe and the best man for the job.
That’s no guarantee United select him of course, but clearly, this report is good news that he is willing to take on the challenge and not stay in his comfort zone at Ajax.
The Mail report Ten Hag wants to bring Mitchell van der Gaag to Old Trafford with him as his assistant, so who exactly is he?
Who is Mitchell van der Gaag?
Mitchell van der Gaag is a former player who began his career at PSV Eindhoven. A centre-back, he played in the UK for two years at Motherwell between 1995 and 1997, where he was signed by Alex McLeish for a fee of £400,000.
Van der Gaag is still a cult hero at Motherwell after scoring the equalising goal against Dunfermline in 1996/97 which ensured their survival on the last day of the season.
He then returned to the Netherlands with Utrecht, then Maritimo in Portugal. After retiring in 2007, the former Netherlands under-21 international moved into coaching.
He replaced Bruno Fernandes’ former Sporting boss Carlos Carvalhal as Maritimo boss in 2009 after working for their B team and helped them achieve a top five finish.
After another spell in Portugal with Belenenses he took over Ermis in Cyprus, before returning to his homeland, where he has been ever since.
Van der Gaag worked as a manager for Excelsior and NAC Breda before being appointed as Ajax reserves coach in 2019.
Erik Ten Hag promoted him to assistant manager last summer and he has been an important part of the coaching staff which has masterminded a fantastic season, with 71 goals so far for Ajax in 24 Eredivisie games, and only seven conceded.
Van der Gaag may have played a key role in Ajax’s defensive resilience. EDSF Analysis report during his time as Excelsior manager, the Dutch club were notoriously hard to break down and at one stage had the best Expected Goals against in the division, on a shoestring budget.
Like Ten Hag, his preference is for a 4-3-3 formation, which continues the work Ralf Rangnick is currently implementing at Old Trafford.
His work with young players also makes him ideal for United, and he gave an insight into his philosophy in an interview with Ajax’s website during the 2020/21 season.
Van der Gaag said: “We want to dominate for longer periods of the game and be dominant. We have to constantly pay attention to the field occupation, runs in the depth and the occupation in front of the goal. The players like to have the ball in their feet, so we have to constantly pay attention there [and] impose.”
The 50-year-old has a healthy amount of experience in his own right as a manager, and with young players, with a grounding in British football which will be useful to Ten Hag.
He would be an astute choice for Ten Hag to bring to Old Trafford with him is he is offered the job as Manchester United manager.
There is competition for United, with De Telegraaf reporting this week FC Basel have him on their shortlist of candidates to take over as manager in the summer. Van der Gaag could have a very big choice to make.