Sell the captain? The first five things Erik ten Hag will need to address at Manchester United
Manchester United have announced that Erik ten Hag will take over at the club come the end of the season, signing a three-year deal with the club with the option of a further year.
The Ajax boss will take over a club in crisis, with a squad suiting a myriad of styles and plenty who seemingly don’t want to be there, or who won’t be there come the summer.
And, with the club currently struggling to make Europa League football next season, and Roy Keane claiming that ‘it’s not the club I played for’ after their 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Liverpool, there is plenty of work to be done.
So, where does Ten Hag need to start, and where should his priorities lie?
🇳🇱 Made in the Netherlands. Ready for Manchester.
🔴 Erik ten Hag’s next step is United.#MUFC || #WelcomeErik pic.twitter.com/SwsCwFja10
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 21, 2022
1. Sort his relationship with Ralf Rangnick
When Ralf Rangnick’s arrival to take interim charge of the club was announced, a key footnote surrounded his future beyond the end of the season.
“Ralf and the club have agreed that he will continue in a consultancy role for a further two years,” Manchester United revealed in their announcement, though they never went into any great detail as to what that role would entail exactly.
As per the Athletic, ten Hag ‘is not expecting to have total control of club affairs’, but will need to be supported in the transfer market with smart signings rather than big names. For this, he and Rangnick will need to be on the same page, a likelihood given that the pair lean towards similar styles of football, but not a given.
Should there be a power struggle in Manchester come the end of the season, the club need to ensure that they back their newest horse as he looks to recover the club from its darkest times since the 1980s.
2. Figure out the future of his forward line
Manchester United are in a mess all over the pitch, but perhaps their backwards thinking is clearest in the forward roles.
Edinson Cavani is expected to leave this summer when his contract ends, while Anthony Martial was sent on loan to Sevilla in January, where he is yet to register a La Liga goal under Julien Lopetegui.
Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford has been shown the cold shoulder to the point where he is now reportedly considering a move away, with the likes of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes both chosen to play as a striker over the Englishman.
🗣️ “Lingard is not good enough for #MUFC…Rashford played like a child.”
Roy Keane says there’s ‘no team’ at Manchester United ❌ pic.twitter.com/5bM25lp5dy
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 19, 2022
This has left Cristiano Ronaldo as their only reliable source of goals, a 37-year-old who pines for Champions League football and, despite his goalscoring returns, doesn’t really suit the style of play that Manchester United are likely to try and play under ten Hag.
A new striker or two seem to be a necessity this summer, but they need to be more than just big-name players. Beyond scoring goals, they need to fit the style that the club is looking to implement, and if those currently at the club do not, the club may have to be willing to accept losses and move on.
Such are the consequences of a complete rebuild at a big club.
3. Rebuilding the relationship with the fanbase
One thing that went when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was shown the Old Trafford exit door in October was any semblance of relationship between the club and the fans.
The club legend in charge of the club was in no way immune to criticism, but was viewed through rose-tinted glasses as a man who had created history at the club, and who only wanted to see his former side succeed.
Paul Pogba’s reaction when he was booed by his own fans 😕 pic.twitter.com/yn9SmqK5p1
— GOAL Africa (@GOALAfrica) April 16, 2022
That is now gone. Pogba and Harry Maguire are two who have felt the ire of the fans the most, but there is very little love lost between the current squad and the fanbase inside the stadiums and across the globe. That needs to change.
And it isn’t just results that will change that. It is desire, commitment, and performance that will go a long way to healing the wound long before results and trophies do. In short, the club needs to find the identity that it has been lacking for over a decade now. ten Hag’s biggest task may be trying to rediscover that.
4. Instil his philosophy in the side
The sort of football that ten Hag will want to play, and the style that he ends up playing in the early days of his reign could be very different.
As per the Athletic, “ten Hag likes a high-pressing possession game, with emphasis on wide players”, but United are short on wide players, and they have been caught out time and time again trying to press high this season.
Even with the 10 players that Rangnick has suggested could join the Red Devils this summer, there are much deeper problems with those likely to remain, meaning that tweaks to the finished article will need to be made as he continues squad turnover.
#MUFC interim manager Ralf Rangnick says up to 10 new players are needed for the club’s impending rebuild after their “humiliating” 4-0 thrashing at Liverpool 🔴
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 20, 2022
Just how effective ten Hag’s problem solving is will ultimately decide whether he warrants keeping his job, but the task is undeniably a daunting one.
5. Solve the Harry Maguire conundrum
Manchester United’s captain, and their second most-expensive signing ever behind Pogba, Maguire has been woeful this season however you dress it up.
The Englishman has featured in 28 of the 33 games that the Red Devils have played so far this season, a key part of a defence that has now conceded more goals than relegation-threatened Burnley.
The reliable Melissa Reddy reporting that “there is growing internal sentiment that Harry Maguire cannot be the leader of Man Utd’s backline.”
If he can’t lead our backline (which he has failed in), then he surely can’t lead the team as captain. Time for a change. pic.twitter.com/4wtBPe5nb9
— UtdFaithfuls (@UtdFaithfuls) April 21, 2022
His performances for United and the national team are like night and day, and the high line that the Red Devils are planning to use will only continue to widen that gap.
However, whether Manchester United would be willing to take what would be a massive loss on their club captain and offload him is another matter, especially with the centre-back position looking very light at the moment. ten Hag needs to find a way to either play to his strengths, or jettison the Englishman.