In a week to forget for Erik ten Hag, his side and all Manchester United fans, questions have been raised about the manager and whether he is now the right man for the job – or if it is time for the next episode of the managerial merry-go-round at Manchester United.
Reports from publications including The Athletic have suggested that the players feel there is no charisma with ten Hag and that he is not as close to the players as they would like. The publication also stated that there is a growing unrest within the squad due to how the Dutchman has handled the Harry Maguire and Jadon Sancho situations, with many in the team feeling a sense of worry and unease regarding their place in the team.Embed from Getty Images
Now, many United fans will not be feeling any pity for the team hearing this, as this is a club that has let the inmates run the asylum for far too long. At one point, the team did have a charismatic manager in Jose Mourinho, but he was soon thrown under his own bus the minute he demanded more of the players. On the contrary, the team has also had a smiling and welcoming figure in club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær as their manager, but he too was let down by a team that soon grew tired of his coaching and closeness to the players.
What does this tell us? This tell us that the culture within the club is one of negativity, arrogance and hypocrisy. Bold words to use, I know, but the proof is in the pudding. In ten Hag, the club have a coach that was highly sought after in world football due to his impressive resume with Ajax – another club where standards are at the highest level despite the quality of the league. Last season, many United fans even feared the Dutch coach would leave the club if the board failed to back him as he expected, after an overachieving season which saw the club reach qualify for Europe and reach two cup finals – winning one along the way.Embed from Getty Images
To show the impact that ten Hag had on Ajax, since his departure at the end of the 2021/22 season, the club has had five managers, including the recent appointment of John van ‘t Schip, and are currently sitting fifteenth – and one point from the bottom of the league. Good coaches do not turn bad overnight, and this has led to the frustration of a fanbase at Manchester United that are tired of the blame on the manager and now wish to see the constants addressed; the ownership, the board and the players.
Now, the argument with many opposition and neutral fans will be that the Dutchman has spent just over £400 million on transfers since his arrival, which is a fair point considering some of the high fees paid for what appear to be average players. However, many United fans have seen this story unfold before and that is because the club’s recruitment system and department is inadequate for the job that needs doing, as I was told by many journalists I interviewed during the summer. Whereas most clubs have a Sporting Director or Director of Football working alongside the manager as the negotiating or recruitment committee, United function on much more complicated system – similar to the NFL in some ways.Embed from Getty Images
At United, the Glazers wish to be hands on in all negotiations and will only give the green light once they are at a price that is happy for them – sometimes paying over the odds because the negotiations have taken so long that another club has entered the race and already agreed a deal. This inept approach is seen with the signings of Marouane Fellaini, and again with Paul Pogba under Jose Mourinho, Jadon Sancho under Ole Gunnar Solskjær and, finally, with Antony under Erik ten Hag
With eight defeats in the first fifteen games this season – the most defeats at this stage of a season since 1962/63 – and losing their first two UEFA Champions League games to Bayern Munich and Galatasaray, the Dutchman is now under serious pressure. Questionable decisions and substitutions have brought the spotlight onto the manager, with Rasmus Højlund being substituted for Anthony Martial and the appointment of Bruno Fernandes as captain are decisions that are being widely scrutinised and serve as evidence that the manager is losing his grip of the dressing room.Embed from Getty Images
Off the pitch, uncertainty and negativity is becoming widespread throughout the club as the looming arrival of Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his proposed 25% stake at United has led to many within the football department questioning their employment. From the boardroom to the dugout, questions are being asked as to who Sir Jim will put in place, whether he wants a change of manager or if he’ll fully back the current one – and more importantly, just how much power or control will he have with such a small percentage of the club.
On top of the ownership uncertainty, Old Trafford itself has fallen so far as that it is now not even considered as one of the top ten stadiums in the country. Leaking roof panels, rusting paint and facilities that are stuck in 2013, never mind 2023, have meant the club have stood still whilst their bitter rivals elevate past them in short time. A club that was once the depiction of the the ‘best in class’ now gazes in bewilderment as its ownership sucks the life and money out of it like leeches.Embed from Getty Images
So, with all this on the table, it begs the the question of who should replace ten Hag is he is to be the club’s next managerial victim. The reality of this is that, perhaps, no one would want to – as the club’s unsteady foundations have made it a graveyard for both managers and players, a losing battle before they walk in the door at Carrington. Any manager, whether it remains ten Hag or another, will have the task of having to carry on the club’s legacy of attractive, winning football – all while being prepared to sacrifice their reputation and appease an ownership structure that is built for failure.
In a stadium that is fast becoming the ‘Theatre of Nightmares’, ten Hag now has to discover something within himself that can stop this alarming descent. Time and patience have the prescription for a club that is quick to pull the trigger as soon as the going gets tough, but ten Hag will hope to beat the odds of a hot seat that has stripped many managers down and turned them inside out for fun.