Oranje is the new black at Manchester United yet again

Oranje is the new black once again this summer at Old Trafford with Erik ten Hag now in charge.

It’s the latest chapter in the relationship between the Netherlands and Manchester United, which has seen a shade of Oranje colour the managerial hot seat, coaching staff and playing squad over the last 40 years.

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ten Hag is United’s second Dutch manager, after Louis van Gaal – only England and Scotland have had more.

Accompanying him is his Ajax assistant and lookalike Mitchell van der Gaag and his old boss at FC Twente, honorary Dutchman “Shteve” McClaren, who’ll be returning to United 21 years after he first left.

van der Gaag will hope to follow Rene Meulensteen, at the club from 2001-12 in various positions, and not van Gaal’s assistants Marcel Bout and Albert Stuivenberg when it comes to coaching.

Outside of the UK and Ireland, no country has provided more players to the club – 13, level with France. These players have a combined 1177 appearances and 243 goals, with the bulk of the latter being supplied by vans, Nistelrooy and Persie.

The first Dutchman to make the move to Manchester, Arnold Muhren in 1982, was just the third foreigner to play for the club, a sign of the times.

Muhren didn’t even arrive directly from his home country, having spent four years at Bobby Robson’s then high-flying Ipswich Town, with whom he picked up a UEFA Cup winner’s medal in 1981. He completed the European set with three European Cups and a Cup Winners’ Cup at Ajax either side of his English experience.

His time at United was shaped by FA Cup finals, scoring a penalty in the ’83 replay edition vs Brighton and being dropped by Ron Atkinson from the squad for the ’85 showpiece, which led to his departure that summer.

His exploits did not lead to further foreign migration instantly, as England remained extremely insular until the dawn of the Premier League. The commercial impact of the new league, aided by the Bosman ruling in 1995, which allowed free player movement across Europe, would change the landscape of English football forever, and resulted in more Dutchmen landing in Manchester.

The summer of 1996 saw Jordi Cruyff and Raymond van der Gouw arrive as Fergie made his first true foray into the European market with five foreign signings.

Cruyff was signed from Barcelona, where he had been coached by his father, and whose shadow he tried to escape so much his first name was on the back of his shirt for the majority of his career. However, he was forced to don the famous name, on top of choosing the same no. 14, until 1999 due to league rules. Not that it mattered much given he played just 34 league games in four years before returing to Spain with Alaves.

Despite being signed very much as a back-up to Peter Schmeichel at the age of 33, van der Gouw would play three more league games than Cruyff in his six years at the club. The majority of these came after the Dane’s departure in 1999 and the subsequent goalkeeping struggles.

An integral part of the 1999 treble, Jaap Stam signed at the start of that season. The big Dutchman overcame initial struggles to become arguably the best defender in the league during his time in England. League titles and team of the year selection in each of his three seasons a testament to this. What should have been a far lengthier United career was cut short just a game into the 2001/2002 season, as an alleged result of comments made in his autobiography. Fergie later admitted regret over his sale to Lazio, and rightly so given his initial replacement was 35-year-old Laurent Blanc.

His one game in that season came alongside his international team-mate, Ruud van Nistelrooy, on what was his Premier League debut. Having had his move to Manchester delayed by a year due to a serious knee injury, he instantly made up for lost time with a double versus Fulham, adding to his debut goal in the Community shield a week prior.

This set the tone for the striker’s career at the club. His first season didn’t deliver any trophies, but did bring individual success, namely the PFA Player of the Year award and top scorer in the Champions League (the first of three). The following season, he added a Premier League Golden Boot and eight goals to his debut tally, totaling 44. In his first two years at the club, he also broke the record for most consecutive league games scored in, and then broke his own record. 2002/2003 saw United land the league title, the only one in Ruud’s time at the club.

In his five years at the club, Van Nistelrooy won the FA Cup and League Cup as well but found himself extremely unfortunate to be part of a transitionary period between two golden eras. The successful League Cup final in 2006 signalled the beginning of the end, as he was sat on the bench for the entirety, saw his starting position taken by Louis Saha and further focus placed on Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. A training ground bust up with Ronaldo, along with a refusal to sit on the bench in the final game of the 05/06 season was not how a United career for a player with 150 goals in 219 games should have ended. The greatest finisher in the club’s modern history he remains.

His final season, like his first, saw him joined by another Dutchman at the opposite end of the pitch, Edwin van der Sar. The keeper had already spent four years in England, rather peculiarly at Fulham, after stints with Ajax and Juventus. His Premier League debut, in fact, came at Old Trafford in the same game as van Nistelrooy. He returned to the super-clubs at United in 2005, and probably six years after he should have.

His six years at United was another period of dominance – four league titles, three European Cup appearances (one victory), three League Cups and a Club World Cup. His penalty save from Nicolas Anelka in the 2008 shoot-out was the defining moment of his United career, and delivered him a second European Cup 13 years after his first with Ajax. A record 14 straight clean sheets, and 1,311 minutes without conceding, came in the 08/09 season. He played past his 40th birthday, retiring in the summer of 2011. van der Sar has since returned to Ajax in an executive role, masterminding their success under ten Hag – how United fans wish he was joining him this summer.

2011-12 saw a United squad without Netherlands representation for the only time in the last 26 seasons. To combat this, Fergie went double Dutch in the summer of 2012, to differing degrees of success.

Alexander Büttner came from Vitesse Arnhem as back-up to Patrice Evra at left back, and critically, Robin van Persie arrived from Arsenal after listening to the little boy inside him. The move was symbolic of the changing dynamic in the two clubs’ rivalry , and acted as a somewhat of an unintentional farewell present from Wenger to Ferguson.

Büttner’s United career consisted of just 28 games in two seasons, although a debut goal and one in Fergie’s last game were noteworthy, as was a league title medal.

Van Persie was, more than anyone, responsible for that title – number 20 to match his squad number. The goals came quick, one on his home debut, and consistently – he scored winners at Anfield and the Etihad, as well as goals away to Chelsea, Spurs and, you guessed it, Arsenal. 26 league goals gave him a second straight golden boot, and his hat-trick versus Aston Villa sealed the title.

Fergie’s retirement in 2013 came as shock to many, particularly to Van Persie, whose form and fitness didn’t last for the remainder of his time at the club. The season of Moyes was written off, and the arrival of Louis van Gaal was thought to be one to bring the club back to the top, and van Persie to his brilliant best. The two had formed a manager-captain to rival any at the 2014 World Cup, and expectations were high. Their international success wasn’t replicated at Old Trafford, and RVP departed for Fenerbache in 2015, without so much as a goodbye and thank you from the club shamefully.

King Louis’ two year reign at United saw three more Dutch players join the ranks in Daley Blind, Memphis Depay and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Not that it brought Total Football to Old Trafford – quite the opposite.

Blind arrived off the back of the World Cup, where he’d played left back in Van Gaal’s 3-5-2 system. His time at United saw him play there, as a defensive midfieldier and even at centre back for the 2015-16 season alongside Chris Smalling. He continued to play under Jose Mourinho, even starting the 2017 Europa League final win over his former club, Ajax. He returned to his boyhood club the following year, where he became a key player under ten Hag.

Depay was the golden boy of Dutch football, and a surrogate son of van Gaal, or so it seemed. His time at Old Trafford lasted just 18 months, and is best remembered for turning up to a reserves game in a Rolls Royce, much to the chagrin of captain, Wayne Rooney. Another “What If?” player in the post-Fergie era.

Fosu-Mensah was one of many, namely Marcus Rashford, who benefited from an injury crisis in the 2015-16 season. The two made their Premier League debuts together versus Arsenal, both aged just 18. A few more appearances came, as well as several loan spells, for the Ajax academy graduate before his departure in 2020 to Bayer Leverkusen.

That summer was a revolving door of Dutch talent – Tahith Chong joined Fosu-Mensah on the way out, but on loan. You’d be forgiven for forgetting he’s still on the clubs books. As you could possibly for Donny van de Beek, such has been his non-impact since arriving from Ajax. Another example of a hugely incompetent transfer strategy.

He’ll hope to have a better stab at things with his old boss now at the helm. He’s unlikely to be the only Dutch player starting the season at Old Trafford, given United have been linked to every one available, and anyone with a connection to Ajax.

Frenkie de Jong looks likely to spearhead another ten Hag revolution, once his protracted transfer from Barcelona is finalised. Expect to see more to follow in the coming years, as “The Bald One” looks to break the nine-year curse placed on the club (by the Glazers), and become the latest Dutchman to fly to new heights in Manchester.

The Author

Peter Fitzpatrick

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