You can set your clock to it.
After Manchester United’s threw away a pair of two-goal leads in midweek and ended up with a 3-3 draw in a must-win Champions League match against Galatasaray and then followed up with a listless 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United over the weekend, the knives came out for Erik ten Hag. Predictably, they came from inside the locker room.
“One source has claimed Ten Hag has lost 50 per cent of the dressing room, with his refusal to act on concerns voiced by United’s players and the continued exile of [Jadon] Sancho cited as factors,” Sky Sports reported.
Ten Hag is learning what David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Ralf Rangnick found out before him. If United have a couple of bad results, then he can expect some not-so-friendly fire. First, it’ll be former United players-turned-pundits questioning him.
Then it’ll be current United players. They complained Moyes was too focused on set plays and crosses. They nearly revolted over Van Gaal’s bland and predictable tactics. They leaked Mourinho’s lineups to the press knowing that it drove him crazy. They exposed Ole’s lack of tactical nous and overreliance on clichés and platitudes. They whined over Rangnick’s training methods and disrespected him by claiming they had to Google who he was when he got the job.
For ten Hag, it’s his intense training sessions exacerbating United’s ongoing injury crisis, his tactical inflexibility and decision to freeze out Sancho.
To be fair, the first two have merit. United have had a laundry list of injuries since before the season started, and some important first teamers are still out as of this writing. Whether that’s due to ten Hag’s demanding methods, a result of all of the club and international fixtures from the previous three years piling up, or a combination of both, is unclear. Ten Hag certainly hasn’t helped by scheduling more preseason fixtures than usual, as well as playing several closed door friendlies. United looked lethargic against Newcastle — maybe it was because they were.
Meanwhile, ten Hag’s tactics have justifiably come under fire this season. The United manager seems to be preaching a similar possession-based controlling philosophy to his fellow Dutchman: Louis van Gaal.
The difference is that ten Hag wants United to play an aggressive high press in order to regain possession and seems willing to leave the back line more exposed in order to generate scoring chances. Unfortunately, his players are better suited to counterattacking and struggle to break down teams. Additionally, the back line lacks pace and recovery speed, which explains why they can leak goals at times.
Last year, ten Hag was willing to adopt more practical formations and tactics in order to make up for his team’s inability to play the way he wanted. He seems unwilling or unable to do that this year. I guess he believes the best way to learn is to do — even if it means doing it badly.
The one argument that doesn’t hold water is the one surrounding Jadon Sancho’s treatment. Any manager with some semblance of a spine would have done the same thing as ten Hag. Sancho essentially called him a liar and refused to apologize, thinking his talent and price tag would shield him from any accountability for his actions (or inactions).
Moreover, Sancho has been a flop since he arrived at United. Last year, ten Hag tried to protect him by sending him to the Netherlands to train privately, away from the intense glare of the British media. He was okay when he came back but hardly the player United paid £73 million for. The carrot approach is only going to go so far — especially if he can’t even be bothered to show up on time. Even recent reports that he’s been “training like a beast” beg the question: Why couldn’t he do that when he was still with the first team?
So clearly, the players and frustrated and, rather than hold themselves to a higher standard, some of them have decided to throw another manager under the bus. Why not? It worked with the previous five guys. Maybe they’re hoping Graham Potter, Julian Nagelsmann, Roberto De Zerbi, Zinedine Zidane or Michael Carrick will finally be the guy who figures out how to win trophies while letting them do whatever they want.