Manchester United

Man Utd must give Erik ten Hag proper support because he can't save them on his own

Jamie Spencer
Erik ten Hag will be the next Man Utd manager
Erik ten Hag will be the next Man Utd manager / KOEN VAN WEEL (Photo by ANP via Getty Images)
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Manchester United owe it to new manager Erik ten Hag to provide him with a structure that is genuinely capable of success, something that none of the four previous permanent bosses since the 2013 retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson haven’t been given.

Although still a financial juggernaut, United have been struggling to survive as an elite club for the last nine years. Several false dawns have been and gone in that time – the latest of those this season has spectacularly gone up in flames amid increasingly worse and lacklustre performances.

The nature of United’s two heavy defeats to Liverpool this season have highlighted the differences between the two clubs; one has identity, passion and pride. The other has none of it.

No United fan would like to admit it, but there are two glaring examples very nearby of how elite football clubs should be run – Liverpool and Manchester City.

Their successes don’t start and finish with the skill of the manager, nor is it solely down to how much the respective squads cost to build – United have hired proven managers and spent hundreds of millions of pounds for minimal gain over the years. It goes far deeper than that, to board level, senior management, scouting, recruitment, and general culture.

Ten Hag will obviously have a big role to play in the hard reset that is needed, but he won’t have the power to change everything that needs to be changed. That needs to come from those in charge – new chief executive Richard Arnold in particular has a more important role than ever.

It also remains unclear as to who actually does what, with current interim Ralf Rangnick joining a hierarchy as a consultant that already includes Arnold as chief executive, a football director in John Murtough, a technical director in Darren Fletcher and a chief negotiator in Matt Judge.

Nine years ago, David Moyes was supposed to pick up where Ferguson had left off. But an ageing squad needed major reinvestment and the new hierarchy installed above – chief executive David Gill left at the same time as Fergie – was unable to deliver for him.

There was talk of re-signing Ronaldo, while a world-record bid for Gareth Bale was also made. But United’s negotiators didn’t have the skill to get deals over the line. Replacement chief Ed Woodward badly misread the signals while trying to negotiate with Everton over Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini and ended up paying way over the odds to only secure the latter.

Moyes was arguably destined to fail before he’d even had a chance to get started.

United then went big in the transfer market to support Louis van Gaal, but it was a scattergraph approach. New signings either weren’t good enough, didn’t want to be there, were past their peak, or simply the wrong fit. It was an era of recent history that smacked of misplaced arrogance from a club that didn’t seem to understand the rapidly changing world of modern football.

Throwing money around wasn’t the solution and Van Gaal hasn’t held back in his criticisms of United since leaving, suggesting that business, rather than football, ruled the roost at Old Trafford.

Jose Mourinho delivered short-term promise, but when he overachieved it was arguably to his detriment. Club strategy appeared to lurch from one extreme to the other around that time, with a huge investment in Paul Pogba in 2016 not followed up in 2017 or 2018 because the Portuguese was bleeding every last ounce out of a squad that appeared to be heading in the right direction.

After things quickly turned toxic in Mourinho’s final months, United went through a partial reset when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was installed – another completely different type of character. There was big talk about how scouting and recruitment was being overhauled behind the scenes – Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s arrival was infamously the result of whittling down an initial list of 800.

Yet poorly-judged footballing decisions seemed to continue higher up the chain. Long-term contracts were handed out to fringe players like Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Eric Bailly in the hope it would preserve their value. Instead, it only served to retain deadwood at a vast cost. It left Solskjaer with a disjointed and imbalanced squad that even quality new additions since haven't fixed.


Listen now to 90min's Manchester United podcast, The Promised Land, with Scott Saunders &Rob Blanchette. On this week's show they discuss the 4-0 defeat to Liverpool and whether it's time to blood fresh youngsters like Hannibal Mejbri.


United have been hurt by egos and too many players coasting – some of the current squad were simply not good enough to begin with and others haven’t developed as hoped. It was reported not long after Ronaldo returned last August that, while understanding he was not joining the same club he left in 2009, he was surprised by how far standards had dropped during his time away.

To look longingly back at Liverpool, the difference in how effective their recruitment has been compared to United’s over the last seven years is utterly startling. Luis Diaz is the latest example on a long list, although it is more than reasonable to predict he wouldn’t currently be thriving at Old Trafford had United been the club to strike that January deal instead.

On the face of it, Ten Hag seems like a smart appointment. He is schooled in the art of Dutch football, where tactical systems and player development are king, but has also been polished abroad under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola, before restoring Ajax to one of the continent’s best.

United have tried the ‘safe successor’, the ‘proven winner’ (twice) and the ‘popular legend’. All probably could have been successful in different circumstances. Ten Hag is different again, but arguably the best single fit of any those who have come before him as Ferguson replacements.

At 52, he has experience behind him at the top level, yet still has long-term potential to grow with the club in a way that Jurgen Klopp has just over 30 miles away at Anfield.

But none of the many positives about Ten Hag will matter in the slightest if United don’t build him a proper foundation that will actually allow him to do what he does best.


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