Ten Hag can finally fulfil Roy Keane’s prediction for Cristiano Ronaldo’s Man Utd return

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Erik ten Hag will join Manchester United this summer knowing he has fulfilled his brief at Ajax after clinching the Eredivisie title on Wednesday night. Ajax thrashed Heerenveen 5-0 to secure the trophy with one game to spare – and now he could live up to Roy Keane’s desire for there to be a “winning mentality” at United.

Once Sunday’s final game of the season is out of the way against Vitesse, Ten Hag can afford to fully turn his attention towards Old Trafford, where a massive task awaits. The 52-year-old will have to completely overhaul United’s underperforming squad – but one thing he said after Ajax’s title triumph will resonate with his new club and suggest he already has one key attribute.

“We brought a certain culture in this club,” he said post-match. “A winner’s mentality.” That is certainly true: since Ten Hag took charge in December 2017, Ajax have won three league titles, two KNVB Cups and the Johan Cruyff Shield, as well as enjoying a run to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2018/19 season.

A “winning mentality” is something that was constantly mentioned by members of the United squad of old. While it is hard to define, under Sir Alex Ferguson, United definitely had it. They had a swagger, a supreme confidence, a togetherness and a determination to come through difficult situations stronger.

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That attribute was one of the reasons why there was so much excitement last summer when it was announced Cristiano Ronaldo would be returning to Old Trafford from Juventus. Ronaldo was a part of the one of the best iterations of Ferguson’s all-conquering squad in his first spell at United and the club’s former captain Keane immediately thought he would bring back the good times.

“He’s a clever guy, I think he’s only coming back to Man United to win stuff,” he said on Sky Sports last summer. “Okay, my doubts are I don’t think he’ll be the difference in winning the big trophies, but to win an FA Cup or a League Cup, I think that’s more than possible.

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“But he’d want more than that. I think he’ll bring a winning mentality to the dressing room, we all know he’s a fitness freak. His game has changed over the last few years obviously and I’ve said it before, I think he’s one of the most intelligent players I’ve ever seen in my life, the way he’s adapted his game. He’s a winner, he’s coming back to Man United to win stuff, make no mistake about that.”

While the prediction of trophies has proven wrong – United are about to conclude their fifth straight campaign without any silverware – Keane’s point about a winning mentality has been evident with Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar has demanded the highest standards at the club through his body language on the pitch. Ronaldo has been determined to turn around a sinking ship, but that desire has turned into frustration more and more as the season has worn on.

If Ten Hag can bring his winning mentality to United from Ajax then he could get the best out of Ronaldo, who has one year left on his contract. After years of underachieving, United fans will hope that they can form a winning combination for the 2022/23 season.

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