Man United ended the season with a win at Old Trafford and Erik ten Hag spoke to supporters on the pitch after the game.
You could probably hear Manchester United fans roaring to Erik ten Hag’s speech at Old Trafford from Deansgate at the weekend.
The rousing, passionate address of supporters sent reverberations around the sun-kissed stadium and it was evidence of the special connection between the fans and club that has been gradually rebuilt on the back of it being shattered.
“First of all, I want to say thank you to our players,” Ten Hag said to rapturous applause. “I think they played a brilliant season. Thank you to the staff and I also want to thank you all. Thank you for your contribution, backing us and the support.
“It was great, so thank you. But when I say these words, there’s still one game to go and I’m sure these players will give everything to beat Manchester City next week. I’m sure we have a really good chance to take the cup back to Old Trafford.”
The away support who travelled to watch United be defeated at Selhurst Park on the final day of last season genuinely feared the future, but just 12 months later and those who were at Old Trafford cannot wait for what’s to come next.
The speech at Old Trafford was stirring and it gave a glimpse into what the future might look like with Ten Hag in charge. The club last won the Premier League in 2012/2013 and supporters are now hoping to see a credible title challenge.
The 53-year-old, composed with the microphone, struck every right note with his speech and the fans who will make the pilgrimage to Wembley for the third time this season for the FA Cup final will be buoyed and cautiously optimistic.
Sir Alex Ferguson would give speeches at the end of most seasons, Ryan Giggs delivered a great speech as interim coach, Louis van Gaal did it twice and was succinct, whilst Jose Mourinho never did any during his two-and-a-half-year tenure.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer picked up the baton that Mourinho didn’t want but he was restricted to just one address, as the 2018/19 season ended with a home defeat against Cardiff and 2019/20 finished behind closed doors due to the pandemic.
Solskjaer finally got the chance to thank fans for their continued support on the final day of the 2020/21 campaign, when just 10,000 were allowed back inside Old Trafford to watch a draw against Fulham which preceded the Europa League final.
“We know it’s been a long year for everyone, but I’m so grateful to see you back here,” said the Norwegian that afternoon. “It’s been great working with these boys, they’re a great group. I know we’re not where we want to be in the league.
“But hopefully we can bring a trophy back in around 10 days’ time, so we’ll do whatever we can and have a safe trip back home.”
Whilst Old Trafford was at just a fraction of capacity in unprecedented circumstances, Solskjaer’s tone of voice during his speech was not as authoritative as his successor’s and the Europa League final was subsequently lost on penalties.
The wider point is Solskjaer was not the manager to lead the club to silverware and supporters inside Old Trafford reacted to his speech almost as if they suspected that. It wasn’t as confident as the speech made on Sunday.
When Ten Hag pointed the crosshairs on Manchester City in his speech, those in attendance believed and hung off his every word. He’s the most universally liked manager at the club since Ferguson and that status has been earned this season.
Ten Hag spent north of £200million last summer, but the extent of the mess he inherited should not be forgotten. He’s taken a broken dressing room back into the Champions League, inspired a third-place finish and most importantly lifted a trophy.
City have reached their swashbuckling best in the spring and the FA Cup final against Pep Guardiola’s side could be a step too far at this stage, but regardless of the result at Wembley, the future is now something to look forward to again.
Ten Hag has given supporters hope this season and a football club that doesn’t provide a chance to dream is meaningless.
The manager’s speech at the end of the 2023/24 campaign has the potential to be the most memorable for a decade.