Man United’s new boss, the challenges he faces
Erik ten Hag has become Manchester United’s fifth permanent manager since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
During the intervening years, there have been fleeting moments when it seemed the club was moving in a forward direction.
But, right here, right now, they are further away from challenging for major honours than they have been since Ferguson first arrived at the club in the mid 1980s.
In a sense, Ten Hag is in a good position. After what has gone before, under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, there is a sense that structural issues are the real problem at Old Trafford and until they are sorted, any manager will find the job tough.
But this is also the 52-year-old’s chance to prove he is capable of transitioning from highly rated coach of a famous club in a less competitive league, to one at the highest level of the game.
Clearly though, there are a number of challenges for Ten Hag to overcome.
In what came down to a straight choice with Mauricio Pochettino, United felt Ten Hag’s progressive style and willingness to work with a director of football was more in tune with what is now in place at Old Trafford.
Nevertheless, Ten Hag is stepping into an alien world.
Unlike Pochettino, he has never experienced the unique demands of English football, where energy-sapping game follows energy-sapping game, where success only increases the brutality of the schedule and where room for rest is virtually non-existent.
Ajax have had five domestic midweek matches so far. Even in a campaign where they experienced early exits in both the FA Cup and Carabao Cup, United will have at least seven this season.
In the three-week period when Ajax were enjoying their winter break, United had five games – and more called off because of Covid.
Evidently, the club’s pre-season trip to Thailand – and a game against Liverpool – and Australia will be vital for Ten Hag to get his ideas across.
He needs the players to buy into his philosophy immediately as the chance of making up for lost time – at least until the World Cup when most of his players will be on international duty anyway – will be limited.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s enormous salary and superstardom are a magnet for attention.
The Portuguese has scored 21 goals for United this season, but unless Ten Hag finds a consistently productive way of using the 37-year-old, five-time world player of the year, or gets rid of him completely, progress will be difficult.
Either through the clear physical limitations that prevent United operating a forceful and repeated high press or the frosty relationship that has developed with Harry Maguire over the club captaincy, Ronaldo’s presence is an issue for Ten Hag.
The Dutchman has never managed anyone with either the history or the ego of Ronaldo. It is essential he gets this right.
It is not that hard to come up with a list of 10 United players who could leave this summer.
Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Edinson Cavani and Juan Mata are all out of contract. Phil Jones’ runs to 2023 but he has played just twice in more than two years.
Then there is goalkeeper Dean Henderson, central defender Eric Bailly and England forward Marcus Rashford, who have been the subject of intense speculation over their Old Trafford future.
Anthony Martial, Donny van de Beek and Brandon Williams were all out of favour when they were loaned out to Sevilla, Everton and Norwich respectively.
Amad Diallo has done nothing in his loan spell at Rangers to suggest he is a United first-team player, while Mason Greenwood remains unavailable for selection.
Even if not all the named players end up leaving, there are going to be sizeable holes to fill although Patrick Vieira used a similar lack of resource to dramatically improve Crystal Palace last summer.
Finding the right quality at United may not be quite so easy.—BBC