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Next Ajax Manager: Four potential replacements for Erik ten Hag

Erik ten Hag is now reportedly Man Utd's No.1 choice
Erik ten Hag is now reportedly Man Utd's No.1 choice

*Since this article was published it's been confirmed that Erik ten Hag will swap Ajax for Man Utd this summer*

We’re all still patiently waiting to see the outcome of the managerial duel for the Man Utd job, between Erik ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino.

Recent reports have stated that it's Ten Hag who has emerged as the No.1 contender and he now appears to be drawing ever closer to becoming the new Red Devils boss.

If, and it’s still an if mind, the Dutchman does switch Amsterdam for Manchester, then who could replace him in the Ajax dugout?

Below we have brought forward four potential candidates for the seemingly imminent opening, plus a few faces who could well crop up on Ajax’s radar over the course of the next few months…

Football Tips

The Internal Appointment: Mitchell van der Gaag (or John Heitinga)

Could Ajax look to make a smooth transition from within as they bid to build on the success of Erik ten Hag?

If so, then assistant manager Mitchell van der Gaag may prove to be the ideal solution should he opt not to follow Ten Hag to Manchester.

The former Motherwell player has had spells in charge of Portuguese clubs Maritimo and Belenenses, as well as Ermis (Cyprus), FC Eindhoven, Excelsior and NAC Breda (all Holland). He became Ajax reserves coach in 2019, then was promoted to assistant manager under Ten Hag last summer.

The 50-year-old has thrived in the role, he knows the players, the system, and has previous managerial experience on his CV, although the top gig at Ajax would be by far the biggest job of his career and one that brings heightened expectation, pressure, and scrutiny.

Alternatively, Ajax could consider the manager of their reserve side, John Heitinga, who has won admirers for the work he's doing. Although the top job may well arrive too soon for the former Everton defender, who is only in his first season in management.

Marcelo Bielsa at Ajax would be absolutely fascinating
Marcelo Bielsa at Ajax would be absolutely fascinating

The Maestro: Marcelo Bielsa

Seeing one of the world’s most meticulous and mesmerising managerial minds take charge of one of Europe’s old superpowers would be absolutely fascinating.

Marcelo Bielsa may be taking a deserved breather following an intense, transformative and unforgettable tenure at Leeds but should, as expected, the Ajax job become available this summer then the 66-year-old would surely be interested in venturing off to the Netherlands capital.

Despite being widely admired for being one of the most influential managers of his generation, Bielsa’s CV is notably lacking a top-flight European title. Managing Ajax could see him end that drought while also competing in the Champions League.

On a side note, earlier this season Bielsa revealed that former Ajax manager Louis van Gaal was the manager he admired most when he was a young coach:

"Louis van Gaal, because I watched a lot of the teams he built, especially his unforgettable Ajax side, and I liked the football they played a lot."

Could Graham Potter be on Ajax's radar?
Could Graham Potter be on Ajax's radar?

The British Boss: Graham Potter

Linked with multiple top-six jobs in the Premier League over the last year, Graham Potter is undoubtedly one of England’s most prized managerial assets right now.

He could well find himself on Arsenal’s radar should Mikel Arteta depart, however with a job potentially soon up for grabs at Ajax he could be a left-field option to succeed Ten Hag.

Potter thrived in Sweden at Ostersunds FK and has since completely transformed the style of play at Brighton who are bang in the mix to finish in the top-10 of the Premier League for the first time in their history.

An innovative, progressive and flexible manager, it would be great to see what Potter could achieve at the helm of an Ajax side bristling with exciting young talent...and players who consistently find the back of the net.

If appointed, Potter would be Ajax’s first English manager since pioneer Vic Buckingham (1960s) who won the title and famously gave Johan Cruyff his debut.

On top of that, Potter would also have the chance to follow in the footsteps of a certain Steve McClaren who won the Eredivisie with FC Twente (2009/10).

Frank de Boer won 4 straight titles as Ajax manager
Frank de Boer won 4 straight titles as Ajax manager

The Second Spell: Frank de Boer

What about a manager who delivered Ajax four league titles during a trophy-swamped five-and-a-half-years?

Frank de Boer won those four successive Eredivisie titles between 2011 and 2014, and should have bagged another in 2015/16 only to fail to win on the final day which meant PSV retained their crown.

De Boer has since managed in Serie A, the Premier League, MLS, and at international level, which sounds impressive, however it’s fair to say that his managerial reputation has taken somewhat of a smack since leaving Ajax in 2016: he lasted 85 days at Inter Milan, oversaw all of four league games at Crystal Palace, had a mixed stint at Atlanta United, then was sacked by the Netherlands after crashing out of Euro 2020 following a shock defeat to the Czech Republic in the last-16.

De Boer may have been extremely successful in his first-spell at Ajax but that doesn’t automatically mean he’d be able to repeat the feat should he return six years later. Never say never, but it would be a surprise if this one came to fruition.

Other managers to consider

Former Roma manager Paulo Fonseca remains out of work since leaving the Italian capital last summer, Lucien Farve has yet to return to management since leaving Borussia Dortmund just over a year ago, while Ernesto Valverde, who won two league titles at Barcelona, is also still available for hire.

Alternatively, an out-the-box suggestion is Kjetil Knutsen who has been making waves at Bodo Glimt, a side that have beaten Jose Mourinho’s Roma twice this season.

Who knows, maybe Ajax could look within the Eredivisie for Ten Hag’s replacement, with Pascal Jansen and ​​Ron Jans catching the eye at AZ Alkmaar and FC Twente respectively. However, it’s difficult to see the highly-rated Arne Slot making the switch from rivals Feyenoord!

Over in Belgium, there have been whispers that Club Brugge boss Alfred Schreuder - Ten Hag's former Ajax assistant - could be an option.

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