Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag says club 'very aligned' after approach for Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth

February 15, 2024

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag says he can "feel the ambition" as INEOS look to bring in Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth - but admits he is not being consulted over changes off the pitch.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe's deal to acquire a 25 per cent stake United, which will see INEOS take control of football operations, is expected to be completed next week.

The INEOS boss' determination to hit the ground running has already seen Man City's Omar Berrada announced as chief executive, and they are now turning their attentions to Newcastle sporting director Ashworth to fulfil a similar role at Old Trafford.

United want to bring in the former Football Association technical director, but a deal is not necessarily straightforward given negotiations with the Magpies over cost and timeframes.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday ahead of facing Luton Town this weekend - live on Sky Sports - Ten Hag said of INEOS: "You see and you feel that ambition, brings a mood and a spirit.

"The players and staff are aligned with the ambitions of INEOS, that's why we are playing for Manchester United.

"We want to win and achieve the highest. We have to make strategies and execute them to prove the ambitions."

Player trading has been a key area targeted for improvement by INEOS as they prepare to take control of football operations.

Sales have been pinpointed as a concern on top of United's missteps making signings.

"I think it is very important you're on one page with a football philosophy and tactics," Ten Hag added. "About the player profiles, it's important to have very good communication to get the right players.

"Developing a good team means having the right players and the right characters. It is a long process to get the right players in but it's important to get aligned.

"I've worked in several situations where sometimes I was alone in charge, sometimes I had the co-operation. I've dealt with several situations. But it's so specific and so intense that you need people around you who are on the same page, working on the same targets to achieve the high ambitions."

Magpies chief Ashworth is top of Ratcliffe's list to front up his new football operation at Old Trafford, although there is yet to be formal contact between the two clubs.

It is understood Ashworth is open to the move and Newcastle would be looking for significant compensation, given he only joined the club two years ago.

Man Utd would ideally want him in place this summer to oversee their transfer overhaul as INEOS take control over the football operation.

When pressed on whether he would influence the sporting director appointment, Ten Hag added: "I am here working with the current construction. I'm very happy in this construction so I don't know anything about changes.

"I talk with the sporting organisation but it's not up to me. I'm focused on this team. We're now working on the plans for the summer as the window is shut for January.

"Everything is aligned with each other. We're a club, the first team is not an isolated department. But it's important that the first team is performing and getting results."

The interest in Ashworth comes after the Premier League and the Football Association both approved Ratcliffe's proposed bid to buy a minority stake in the club.

Ten Hag also confirmed that defender Luke Shaw is a doubt for the trip to Luton on Sunday, but the Dutchman would not categorically rule the left-back out, adding that he would be assessed after being taken off against Aston Villa as a precaution.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation, while Tyrell Malacia, Mason Mount and Lisandro Martinez remain long-term absentees.

On the unique challenge of a trip to Kenilworth Road, Ten Hag said: "The pitch is smaller or longer? 11 vs 11? No referees are coming?

"Of course, every ambience is different, we have to deal with the circumstances. It's about playing football 11 vs 11 - we have to make it our game.

"We are not in a position to underestimate any opponent so we will not.

"We have to play our best because we've seen their performances across the season are really good and they are improving. I have a lot of respect for this team."

'The best in the business' - who is Dan Ashworth?

Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol:

"It is very significant because Jim Ratcliffe is not wasting any time at Manchester United. He's already brought in Sir Dave Brailsford, who's conducting a review of the whole club. He's already appointed Omar Berrada as a new chief executive who used to have a senior role at Manchester City.

"But the key role that fans want filled is this sporting director role because it is no secret in football that Manchester United haven't been performing very well in the transfer market and Dan Ashworth is somebody who has an absolutely brilliant record at West Brom, Brighton and also at Newcastle.

"He also did exceptional work when he was at the Football Association, bringing through a whole new young England team while working very closely with Gareth Southgate.

"He's got a reputation as being the best in the business as far as English football is concerned, and I think it would be a big coup if Manchester United were able to get him from Newcastle.

"Sometimes when it comes to transfers, you can overstate how much one person is responsible for making those signings, so I don't know if Dan Ashworth was responsible for signing Moises Caicedo at Brighton for £4.5m, Kaoru Mitoma for £2.5m and Alexis Mac Allister for around £6m.

"At Newcastle, Bruno Guimaraes, Alexander Isak and Anthony Gordon - they've made some really good signings. I'm not saying that's all down to Dan Ashworth, but he has been the man in charge, he's been the sporting director, so you have to say when you look at his CV, when you look at his track record and compare it to what has been a real hit and miss sort of recruitment operation at Manchester United recently, you would have to say this is a very positive move if it comes off.

"I've had some dealings with him, especially when he used to work at the Football Association. He's a very impressive character. He knows English football inside out and I think he's also very plugged into the best young English players so maybe we could see United buying them and young players from abroad."

'Newcastle will not let Ashworth go without a fight'

Analysis by Sky Sports News North East reporter Keith Downie:

"You have to remember that although he was appointed in February 2022, the first four or five months of that was spent on gardening leave, so he only really got his feet under the desk at Newcastle in June 2022.

"So he is less than two years into what is a huge rebuilding job at Newcastle, but you would suggest the rebuilding job is even bigger at Man Utd.

"As far as Newcastle is concerned, they would be very reluctant to lose him, he is a huge part of what they are trying to do right now. But like with a player transfer, if an individual agitates to leave and their head is turned, it may be difficult for Newcastle to hold on to him.

"The last thing they would want to do is drag this out. Remember, Dan Ashworth is privy to lots of sensitive transfer information and the noises coming out of the club are that they want this dealt with quickly, they do not want this to drag on.

"But they are now well aware that Man Utd are keen on bringing Ashworth in and they are braced for that formal approach to come, but they will not let Ashworth go without a fight, they will be looking for compensation and it may be that he will have to serve a period of gardening leave like we saw when he joined Newcastle from Brighton as well.

"For Newcastle, it would not be great in terms of optics losing someone of his stature to Man Utd, but sometimes these decisions are out of the hands of the powers that be at football clubs."

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