Ten Hag faces the biggest challenge of his career: turning this cursed Manchester United ship around | OneFootball

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·14. September 2023

Ten Hag faces the biggest challenge of his career: turning this cursed Manchester United ship around

Artikelbild:Ten Hag faces the biggest challenge of his career: turning this cursed Manchester United ship around

The issues are piling up for Erik ten Hag at Manchester United

Erik ten Hag was presiding over one of the more serene summers Old Trafford has seen. But history tells us Manchester United are never far from crisis mode

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It’s been a trying few weeks at Manchester United to say the very least. The pre-season optimism has been replaced by myriad issues that threaten to engulf the entire club and send them back to the dark days of the last decade.

This writer will willingly admit he felt and wrote that Erik ten Hag had been enjoying (if that’s the right word to use) a far more serene summer this year than his first few months in charge of United. How wrong can one be?

Almost as soon as the season started, on and off-field issues have sprouted up like a bed of thorns on the Old Trafford pitch, with the terribly handled, shambolic and shameful Mason Greenwood situation barely navigated by the time similarly dark allegations were made against Antony, which have now led to the Brazilian being put on leave by mutual agreement.

To make things even worse, the player who might have replaced him on the right wing, Jadon Sancho, did what modern athletes do when faced with criticism and took to Twitter/X after being left out of the squad for the loss at Arsenal.

Ten Hag’s comments were blunt and who knows the truth, but it feels like a strange way to respond, particularly considering the care the Dutchman took with him last season. There appears to be no resolution as yet.

There have seemingly been issues with tactics, mentality and preparation and of course, more terrible away results to rivals, which have not been aided by a catalogue of injuries that has seen Mason Mount, Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw and others ruled out in the opening weeks.

Scrambling for loan deals late in the window is not befitting of a club that claims to be the biggest in the world but by now, everyone knows the game with the Glazers. Speaking of, the interminably long takeover saga does not seem to be ending anytime soon, painfully for everyone involved bar the sellers.

It’s for this reason that internal briefing seems to be taking place with The Athletic being given information on Greenwood which saw the club’s plan to reintegrate him fall apart and now reports of a former scout and convicted paedophile being invited to Old Trafford last season.

After the Cristiano Ronaldo drama last season and the sidelining of now-deposed captain Harry Maguire and the long goodbye to David de Gea, it felt that Ten Hag had instilled some much-needed discipline and authority on the club, but as ever the soap opera that is Manchester United keeps on producing episodes. Coronation Street certainly has a local rival.

Artikelbild:Ten Hag faces the biggest challenge of his career: turning this cursed Manchester United ship around

Harry Maguire of Manchester United looks on

It seems former lead character/antagonist Paul Pogba has taken that baggage to Turin with him, albeit not all of it his fault and a level of sympathy must be given to his current ongoing plight.

It isn’t anything new when it comes to United, however, as it is an incredibly hard club to work for given the pressure, expectation, media spotlight, big name players and obviously the current rancid owners.

Of the record 20 English league titles won by the club, 18 have come under the tenure of two knights of the realm and two Scots: Sir Matt Busby (five) and Sir Alex Ferguson (13). The first two came during the reign of Ernest Magnall at the start of the 20th century – he remains the only man to take charge of both Manchester clubs.

The three European Cups have also been won by Busby and Ferguson, as well as the vast majority of other major honours in a long and famous history. It takes a certain man/messiah to manage United – similar in a lot of ways to Liverpool – and you have to be able to handle all that comes with the behemoth that is the football club.

Both Busby and Fergie did that, with the first not only building the modern club after World War II but surviving the Munich Air Disaster, in which eight of his brilliant side perished, and somehow winning the European Cup 10 years later at Wembley. Fellow survivor Sir Bobby Charlton was the captain, which makes the tale undoubtedly the greatest, as well as saddest, in English football history for this writer.

He also dealt with the changes in football over his long tenure in charge, which lasted from 1945 to 1969, in which time footballers became superstars, none more so than his maverick genius winger, George Best, who was controlled by his mentor and no-one else.

Fergie also dealt with the Best of his generation in David Beckham (without the booze), eventually growing tired of his celebrity status and selling him in 2003. Others fell afoul of the hairdryer, most notably Roy Keane, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy. He also got rid of the drinking squad in his first few years in charge, with great players like Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside not part of the grand plan for dominance.

Their success and personalities were such that they controlled nearly every single aspect of the football club, which was not afforded to or earned by their many failed successors.

Wilf McGuinness lasted barely 18 months after Busby’s first retirement, with the famous manager still having his office at the old Cliff training ground, and the 32-year-old incumbent having to deal with the players still going to him, as well as the familiar smell of Busby’s pipe smoke when he arrived to work.

Busby returned to finish out the 1970/71 season but by now United were a shadow of the 1968 team. The decline was not arrested by Frank O’Farrell, who had to deal with the ever-growing issue that was his best player, Best, who went AWOL almost as much as he played.

By the time Tommy Docherty turned up to Old Trafford just before Christmas 1972, United were in a relegation scrap and despite surviving at first, would succumb to the drop in 1973/74, just six years after their most famous day.

The Doc, another irascible Scotsman, would lead United straight back up, playing free-flowing football that had been missed at the club for many a year. He guided the club to back-to-back FA Cup finals in 1976 and 1977, shockingly losing to second division Southampton in the former and preventing Liverpool from completing a Treble in the latter.

He was also the man who finally pulled the plug on Best’s ailing United career, but it would be his own off-field actions that would result in his sacking just as he seemed on the verge of bringing the club back to the promised land. An affair with the club physio’s wife (which led to marriage until his death in 2020) would signal the end for the Doc.

Dave Sexton could never get to grips with the club and while Ron Atkinson won two FA Cups, had some famous days in charge – notably a 3-0 win against a Diego Maradona-led Barcelona in 1984 – and signed the legendary Bryan Robson, he could not convert cup wins to league success, as the agonising wait for a title went on.

Obviously Fergie changed all of that after a serious overhaul, but replacing him in 2013 was a modern day equivalent of 1969, and one United did not learn any lessons from, which was affected greatly by the departure of CEO David Gill in the same summer.

Fergie and Gill had held United up following the Glazer takeover in 2005, somehow enjoying a period of success to rival any other despite a tightening of budgets and the riches of Chelsea and Manchester City. Without them, there was a leadership vacuum which has really never been filled, even though chief Glazer crony Ed Woodward believed himself to be the man. Delusion, arrogance and incompetence was aplenty, which did not help any of the managers who had the ‘pleasure’ of working with a man who helped facilitate a leveraged buyout takeover that would not be legal today.

David Moyes was never good enough and greatly struggled to believe in himself seemingly but his task was made even harder by a disgraceful opening transfer window that saw Woodward promise everyone from Fabregas to Bale only to serve up Marouane Fellaini on deadline day.

Louis van Gaal was the right man at the wrong time, as was Jose Mourinho (although many inside the club would debate that), and both could not quite comprehend how an apparent super club was run so shoddily. Van Gaal rightly told Ten Hag that United was a commercial club while Mourinho was told by Woodward that he didn’t need Toby Alderweireld in 2018, pointing to an injury prone Phil Jones as an in-house solution.

These men had worked and won big at Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Ajax and Chelsea but United proved too much for those reasons and more.

The Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era now feels like a mirage and a break from reality, working in conjunction with Covid times. Not at all qualified for the job and only selected on vibes and some early positive results, the hero of 1999 was still not helped at all by the club refusing to sanction deals for Jude Bellingham, Erling Haaland, Moises Caicedo and more.

Ralf Rangnick’s name will likely send shudders down a lot of United fans’ necks but like Ole, he did recommend the club sign Julian Alvarez and Enzo Fernandez. He also was in charge when Greenwood was suspended and the club was leaking more than the Old Trafford roof. His six months in charge saw him lambast absolutely everything, which was music to this writer’s ears.

To date in a chaotic year and bit at the club, Ten Hag has shown himself to be a steely man and did turn a shambolic start last season into third place, two cup finals and a first trophy in six years. But he now potentially faces the toughest period of his entire managerial career.

Will he be like all of those that have fallen before him or will he join Busby and Fergie in taming the beast at Manchester United? He could do with new owners as soon as possible it must be added, as who can thrive under parasites?

As the club season resumes, Ten Hag finds himself in seriously choppy waters. Whatever direction he navigates United towards next may define his time at a club that is becoming as hard to predict as the seas themselves.

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