Without even a moment’s hesitation, Erik ten Hag says with utter certainty: “I’m convinced I’ll get it done – I did it everywhere.”
The new Manchester United manager was responding to a question on how long he needs to bring the glory days back to Old Trafford and his answer had echoes of that which Jurgen Klopp gave in his first press conference after being appointed Liverpool manager seven years ago.
On that occasion, the German caused a few raised eyebrows when he predicted: “If I sit here in four years, I am pretty confident we will have one title.”
Klopp, who was taking over a side languishing down in 10th place in the Premier League, was wrong, although only by 12 months.
But will Ten Hag – who won three Eredivisie titles, including two league and cup doubles in four full seasons as Ajax boss – be afforded such time at United?
“I cannot ask the fans to be patient – I hope they will be – because they want to see a winning team and that is why I am here, but I have to produce it,” he said when we sat down to discuss his team’s start to the new season. “But the process takes time, it is what it is.”
This is five days after United labored to a 2-1 home defeat to Brighton – the Seagulls’ first-ever victory at Old Trafford – to kick off the Ten Hag reign, although luckily the Dutchman operates a “24-hour rule – you celebrate , or moan, after that you move on”.
There was much that still pleased the new man, even in defeat, including his side’s response to going 2-0 down in the first half and how they improved on the ball in the second period, while the source of the goal that gave United hope of a comeback also encouraged him.
“The goal we make, last season we were not that good in set plays, so we make a goal out of set plays and that is really positive,” he said.
I cannot ask the fans to be patient – I hope they will be – because they want to see a winning team and that is why I am here, but I have to produce it
At the same time, though, there was clearly much that worried Ten Hag.
“A lot (was wrong with the display), that is clear,” he said. “It starts of course with the result, but also the performance, in many aspects we were not good. But it is quite normal though in the start of the season when you have to get together and when you want to get a way of playing .
“We went quite well in pre-season, but now you miss two players still against a good team and we have to perform better.”
However, Ten Hag was insistent his new charges were not suffering from a lack of confidence after a number of fallow years, rather it was individual errors that cost them dear against Brighton.
“I have not seen it, we were confident in preseason, good pressing and decisions, but that was clearly not the case in the first half against Brighton, when we obviously made mistakes and they punished us,” he said.
“You have to be mentally strong at the start of the season as you will make mistakes.”
Ten Hag, 52, will be hoping that sloppy first-half showing at Old Trafford last weekend was a one-off as he prepares to bring his team down to the capital for his first away trip as United boss.
But he is also well aware of the challenge awaiting him and his players in west London on Saturday night against a Brentford side who scored three times against Liverpool and only narrowly lost to title winners Manchester City and the then European champions Chelsea at home last season.
“They are a physical, strong team, well organized, play direct, so we will have to be good,” was how the United manager viewed the Saturday Night Football clash at Brentford, one in which Anthony Martial will not feature due to injury, but Cristiano Ronaldo could after the Portugal forward “improved physically”.
And while we may see a change in personnel on Saturday, there could also be a tweak in formation as Ten Hag ponders starting the game as he began the second half against Brighton, with Christian Eriksen deployed in a deeper-lying midfield role as opposed to a false No 9.
“Christian is a multifunctional player who can impact on different areas of the game,” he explained of the versatile Denmark international, who faces his former club this weekend. “So, he can play more deep, but also really high and in both he can have a good impact, which is what I expect from him.”
Whatever his lineup or formation at the Gtech Community Stadium, however, Ten Hag – who comes from the Pep Guardiola school of hands-on coaching – expects United to improve as the players take on board his specific instructions and begin to understand exactly how he wants them to play.
It is a big challenge and we knew that before. It takes time, but in football you don’t have time and that is what makes it such a big challenge
“It takes time to get the co-operation,” he said, “they know their jobs, but top-level sport is a speed game, we need to make quick decisions and they have to be connected – and that takes time.”
Would bringing in more players before the transfer window shuts on September 1 speed up the assimilation process?
“We definitely need more players to get into the season, that is clear, we need a stronger squad in the midfield and offensive departments,” was Ten Hag’s blunt assessment of his side’s current strength in depth.
“As you saw last week when Martial was out, we didn’t have a good replacement and then we struggled,” he added. “So, you need that (squad) depth when you have injuries and games every three days and players are not recovered to play the next game.”
Ten Hag, perhaps sensibly, would not be drawn on what constitutes success for United in his debut campaign at the helm, instead offering that much-heard sporting mantra of taking each game as it comes: “In the short term, we have to win every game and get into the season and go from game to game.”
However, looking further ahead the former Ajax head coach did acknowledge the size of the task facing him and his coaching staff at Old Trafford.
“It is a big challenge and we knew that before,” he said. “It takes time, but in football you don’t have time and that is what makes it such a big challenge.
“It is 10 years ago (that United last won the league) and success goes quickly, but to get it back takes a long time and you need a lot of work, a good strategy, the right people and that is what we are working for day by day.”
Starting at Brentford on Saturday night…