Manchester United

Man Utd must maintain new ruthless edge through beginnings of Erik ten Hag era

Sean Walsh
Erik ten Hag has a big job on his hands
Erik ten Hag has a big job on his hands / Dean Mouhtaropoulos/GettyImages
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Just two days into June, Manchester United have already confirmed the departure of three stalwarts.

The club have announced that Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata will all be leaving on free transfers when their contracts expire later this month. Just like that, a trio with a combined 750 Red Devils appearances to their names are gone.

These are three players Man Utd could and should have moved on last summer. But what's done is done, and at least those upstairs didn't repeat past errors in hastily handing them new deals for the sake of keeping them around with little else planned.

No Premier League squad fits the description of 'bloated' quite like Man Utd's has in recent years, a mismatch of different eras, styles and philosophies. The 20-time English champions should be open to offers for 90% of their roster, if only to force a series of incomings under the new regime.

The same ruthless edge should stand for incomings too. Jurrien Timber looks likely to spurn Man Utd's advances and remain at Ajax. OK, fine, that's in the history books, move onto the next target.

The 2022/23 season is going to slowly creep up on clubs. The June international window lasts a stupidly long time and Erik ten Hag wants his players back at Carrington on the 27th. The Premier League kicks off on August 6.

Man Utd don't have a lot of time to get the men Ten Hag wants and needs in time for a full pre-season. They have little longer to bring them in for the start of a long and gruelling campaign.

Even if the Red Devils were to secure all of their primary targets this month, there's still no guarantee that they'll hit the ground running.

But there will almost certainly be plenty more positive signs for the year ahead if the recruitment is swift. There are going to be more losses, maybe even more humiliations, but if this is truly a fresh start then the new team need fresh scars.


Listen now to 90min's Manchester United podcast, The Promised Land, with Scott Saunders & Rob BlanchetteOn this week's show they discuss reports linking Ruben Neves and Robert Lewandowski with moves to Old Trafford, the latest on Frenkie de Jong, and Andy O'Boyle's return to the club.


Ten Hag and Man Utd have already shown signs of their collective thinking with Ralf Rangnick's departure after such a dismal experience at Old Trafford. The German was popular with the fans because of his public dressing downs of the club but not for his management. Thanks for that Ralf, but it's time to move on.

A good example for Man Utd to follow comes from north London. While Arsenal's largely progressive season ended in disappointment (and still finished 11 points ahead of Man Utd), Mikel Arteta made a striking analogy to the players and fans when the chips were down - either you were 'in the boat' with him or you weren't.

If anything, Arteta has been a little too ruthless at Arsenal, trimming their squad to the bare bones and disillusioning some of their best players. But his management style is yielding results, the way he's brought the club together has brought a harmony largely unseen in the Emirates Stadium era. For 2022/23 Man Utd to have the year 2021/22 Arsenal had would be a success.

But Ten Hag and Man Utd don't even need to replicate what's happening at Arsenal because they have all the tools to be better than that. The Dutchman himself has already pointed to their second-place finish in the 2020/21 season as proof of their immediate potential. Football changes quickly but you need some luck to help you out, and ruthlessness will help them make some of their own.

For too long have Man Utd clung onto the sentiments of the Sir Alex Ferguson era, but if there's one aspect they should resurrect it's a fierce and ferocious streak at all levels.

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