United boss Ten Hag did not give much away in first press conference

Erik ten Hag was guarded in his first press conference as Man United manager and kept his cards close to his chest: Body language expert claims Dutchman lacked precision, suggesting his plan for the club has not been fully ironed out

  • Erik ten Hag gave his first press conference as United manager on Monday
  • The 52-year-old Dutchman has officially started his new role at Old Trafford
  • Ten Hag has succeeded interim boss Ralf Rangnick in the United hotseat
  • One body language expert has broken down his gestures from his unveiling 

Erik ten Hag appeared in front of the media for the first time as Manchester United manager on Monday.

The 52-year-old Dutchman began brightly, shaking the hands of dedicated United correspondents, but gradually became more guarded as he fielded questions about the future direction of the club and his plans for the future.

Here, expert JUDI JAMES breaks down what we can learn about Ten Hag from his debut outing in the Old Trafford hotseat. 

Erik ten Hag has appeared in front of the media for the first time as Manchester United manager

The 52-year-old has been officially unveiled as he begins the mammoth task at Old Trafford

Ten Hag’s arrival at the press conference suggests he is fully aware of The Attribution Bias, i.e. how much first impressions count. Other outings have shown him as a rather low-key, low-energy interviewee who uses mouth shrugs and continual side-to-side head shakes to diminish any thoughts of drama or even challenge but here he arrives in full showboating mode, going round shaking hands with individual members of the press and waving to the cameras like an affable B-list celebrity.

His posture suggests energy, drive and excitement with his new post but some of that drive and excitement begins to evaporate from his body language as he answers the questions.

His first pose retains a sense of control of the situation. His charisma looks almost theatrical as he lifts his right hand like a magician as he says ‘I want to achieve success’. This pretty obvious statement is followed by a mouth clamp and a curt nod to suggest he is firmly in control of the meeting and his new club’s destiny.

Asked how he will produce the magic though, his answers and his body language become less assured. He says ‘I have a good feeling with people around me’, suggesting someone who works on emotions and gut reaction rather than forensic planning.

His cards get closer to his chest when it comes to his plan. He reverts to the plural ‘We’, as in ‘we have a plan’ and there is a lack of precision in his next few comments.

Just over two minutes in, he says ‘the plan is huge’, shaking his head as he waves his arms around, starting high, to either side of his head. This method of miming measurement also looks lacking in precision and suggests work in progress rather than anything concise and detailed.

Shortly after, his left hand waves in circles, again suggesting a lack of precision and clarity. He then raises his hand to chest level with the back of the hand facing the cameras, suggesting a barrier ritual that really would imply he’s keeping things close to his chest.

But he became less assured when pressed for details on how he will bring the magic to United

There were plenty of examples of Ten Hag keeping his cards close to his chest

Three-and-half minutes into the press conference, he starts to use counting gestures on his thumb and two of his fingers to make his points which would suggest more precision when he talks about his stages of action, although his mouth shrugs rather diminish the importance of those points.

When he says ‘we have a strategy’, it comes with another raised left hand in a waving gesture and more mouth shrugs.

All this rather vagueness or even wariness could obviously be down to a desire to not give away too much to his rival clubs but at the same time he looks quite keen to communicate, with none of the usual hunkering in, the lowered head and the lowered tone of other managers that have preferred to keep their plans to themselves. The suggestion from that might be that the plan is possibly still work in progress.

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