MELBOURNE, Australia — Erik ten Hag has been so focused on football during Manchester United‘s tour of Thailand and Australia that there has been little time for anything else.

It’s traditional on these trips for the manager to hold news conferences after games, but Ten Hag has explained to club staff that his time would be better spent plotting the following day’s training session. Postmatch conferences usually last only 10 minutes or so, but for Ten Hag, every second counts, and while Jurgen Klopp was facing questions about Liverpool‘s 4-0 defeat to United in Bangkok — Ten Hag’s first game in charge — the Dutchman was already on the team bus, deep in discussion with assistants Mitchell van der Gaag and Steve McClaren.

Ten Hag’s message to his players and the 120-strong tour party has been clear: They are here to train, and nothing should get in the way of that.

Suggestions that players could be made available for media work before sessions have been knocked back by Ten Hag, who has asked to be kept abreast of everything his squad are doing from interviews to commercial work. In the past, players have been taken to local attractions for photo opportunities, but in Bangkok and Melbourne they have been shuttled from the airport, to the hotel, to training and to matches with little else in between. An idea was floated for MUTV — the club’s in-house television channel — to film players on the set of the Australian soap opera “Neighbours,” just outside Melbourne, but it was another no from Ten Hag.

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Club staff have seen flashes of the 52-year-old’s lighter side, but the word being used around the team hotel to describe the new manager is “intense.” His training sessions have been the same.

When Fred walked into an interview with ESPN at the team hotel in Bangkok, he was asked how he was feeling. “Tired,” was the response from the weary-looking Brazilian. Scott McTominay has toured under Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but says this one is the most gruelling he’s experienced — particularly the running in the hot, humid Thai weather.

Marcus Rashford has had a little more than three weeks with Ten Hag and says he is already fitter than he was last season. Rashford was one of the players called back to Carrington a week earlier than initially scheduled after Ten Hag came to the conclusion the squad would need whipping into shape to be able to play his brand of high-pressing, proactive football.

Most days on tour have involved double sessions — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — and there has even been training on the morning before games. Training drills all have the same purpose: sharp passing, purposeful movement and pressure.

One drill used regularly involves seven players trying to keep the ball away from three others in a tight space. The aim for the larger group is to keep the ball for as long as possible while the smaller group tries to win it back and score into small nets at either end of the tiny pitch. A goal is valuable and means three new players are subbed in to chase the ball in the middle.

There are consequences for mistakes, even in training.

In games of eight versus six played in half a pitch, a goal for the smaller team means the larger group is punished with press-ups. The idea is to make training more competitive, and no one wants the embarrassment of being told to do a forfeit.

Ten Hag is fully involved, stopping the session if he sees something he doesn’t like.

Cameras at an open session at the Rajamangala National Stadium the day before the game against Liverpool caught the United boss screaming at Jadon Sancho because the winger had failed to make the right run. His simple English can make instructions appear very blunt when he’s addressing individuals, but it also means there’s no confusion about his message.

He has demanded high standards from his first session but privately accepts it will take time for his new players to get things right. One player was asked about the volume of new information they are being asked to learn, to which the response was, “It’s enormous.”

Ten Hag is also learning and has asked staff in different departments to wear certain coloured team apparel on particular days so he can easily identify who they are and what they do.

Away from training, the players are being encouraged to relax.

At the W Melbourne Hotel, there is a team room equipped with table tennis, pool, bean bag chairs and a huge TV screen on one of the walls. The competition to replace Andreas Pereira as pingpong champion is fierce, and games involving Bruno Fernandes can be particularly competitive.

The South American players gather in the room, lit with red lights, with the coffees they’re allowed after lunch, while others sit on their laptops. McTominay was so desperate for his laptop for the flight between Bangkok and Melbourne that he asked to be allowed to crawl inside the baggage hold of the team bus to retrieve it. He gave a smile and wave to the waiting crowd of Thai fans once he had emerged.

The response from supporters, especially in Thailand, has been huge. Bangkok is considered a Liverpool stronghold in terms of southeast Asia fandom, but a crowd of thousands greeted the team when they landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Darren Fletcher thought he was safe enough to head to the restaurant for a Diet Coke at the team hotel at 10 p.m., only to hear his name being chanted when he appeared at the top of the escalator. He ordered room service instead.

The appetite for United wherever they travel in the world hasn’t been dented despite nearly 10 years without a Premier League title and five without a trophy of any kind. Ten Hag is here to bring back the success and isn’t wasting any time getting going.



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