In the end, it came down to two choices for Manchester United: Mauricio Pochettino or Erik ten Hag?
The well-known former Premier League manager against the ‘mysterious’ Dutchman who has transformed Ajax over the last few years.
It took just one round of formal interviews for Ten Hag to emerge as the leading candidate, as he impressed John Murtough and Darren Fletcher with his plan for putting United back on top and Pochettino, who had led the managerial hunt process for a while, was pushed into second place.
Originally, there had been four candidates on the shortlist to replace interim manager Ralf Rangnick, with Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui and Spain national team manager Luis Enrique also in contention.
Thomas Tuchel, Carlo Ancelotti and others were considered but never as concrete options due to various obstacles.
However, by the beginning of April, four had become one, with the United hierarchy having settled on Ten Hag, whose appointment was confirmed on Thursday morning.
It is understood that the 52-year-old made quite the impression when Murtough and Fletcher flew to Amsterdam to conduct the formal interview.
The pair, who led the process, were struck by his passion, energy and enthusiasm for the huge challenge which is getting United competing for major honours again.
His no-nonsense approach to management was also evident as he clearly pointed out departments and other areas within the club that need to be improved.
This week it was confirmed that two heads of United’s scouting system, Marcel Bout and Jim Lawlor, will be leaving the club at the end of the season after eight and 16 years of service, respectively.
While sources say those decisions are not down to Ten Hag, they are the first departures of what is set to be a busy summer of restructuring and rebuilding at Old Trafford.
And it’s not just club staff that will be at risk – the squad needs a big clear-out too.
The players’ preferred choice was Pochettino, with some senior players believing they would thrive under the guidance of the former Spurs boss.
However, sources say Ten Hag was the “unanimous choice” with the board after the interview process and despite what some of the players thought, they believe he has the capability and vision required for the next stage of the rebuild.
Richard Arnold, the club’s new chief executive, met with Ten Hag after his formal interview to give his stamp of approval and while Rangnick insists he was not part of the decision-making process, the German was asked for his opinion in the recruitment meetings he was involved in.
Club sources say Ten Hag was the candidate who was “most closely aligned with the club’s identity and strategy” and his commitment to improving and developing young players was also considered a major plus.
The Dutchman has spoken openly about his admiration for Pep Guardiola, admitting that the Manchester City boss has influenced his footballing philosophy.
While sources dispute the claim that financial factors played a part in Ten Hag’s appointment, it was appealing to United that they would only have to pay Ajax £1.6 million ($2m) in compensation fees, given it would have been far more expensive to have prised Pochettino away from Paris Saint-Germain.
Meanwhile, the timing of the appointment has been key for those involved in the recruitment process, with sources revealing that United were determined to have a deal agreed with their new manager before the end of the season.
GOAL understands that the club have been pushing ahead with their usual transfer process and have shortlisted players for each of the priority positions.
A central midfielder, striker and defender are on the shopping list and Ten Hag will be able to make a decision on the chosen targets while also presenting his own options.
Still, this is an appointment that carries some risk. For all the clamour and excitement surrounding the imminent arrival of Ten Hag, he has never previously worked in the Premier League, unlike Pochettino.
However, club sources believe that his other attributes are strong enough to ensure that his lack of experience in England will not be an issue.
Murtough said: “In our conversations with Erik leading up to this appointment, we were deeply impressed with his long-term vision for returning Manchester United to the level we want to be competing at, and his drive and determination to achieve that.”
Only time will tell if he is capable of getting United out of their current mess, but the belief is that there is no better man for the job right now.