Erik ten Hag should be thanking his lucky stars that he took over Man Utd apparently; it’s the job they all want.
Liverpool are top of the Premier League, Chelsea got beaten by Everton, Tottenham gave Newcastle a lesson and Aston Villa are somehow sitting pretty in third, but of course there is only one story in English football.
And we don’t mean The Sun‘s exclusive claim that ‘England’s Wags plan to stay at luxury £1,750 a night German castle for next year’s Euros’.
(You’ll be shocked to learn that they’re not ‘planning’ anything of the sort, but are exploring various possibilities. More as we get it.)
Of course we mean Manchester United, with the Mirror splashing this as their top football story on Monday morning:
NOT A FAN: Incoming chief Ratcliffe’s pointed dig at Fernandes shows true feelings on Manchester United captain which could pose Ten Hag problem
Ten Hag has got enough problems without incoming shareholder Sir Jim Ratcliffe aiming a ‘pointed dig’ to show his ‘true feelings’ about Fernandes. FFS, Jimmy.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe has aimed a pointed dig at Bruno Fernandes in his new book – eight months since the Manchester United midfielder’s infamous antics against Liverpool
Hmmm. For a start, Ratcliffe has not written a new book; he has contributed an opening chapter to a book about INEOS. And the book might come ‘eight months since the Manchester United midfielder’s infamous antics against Liverpool’, but Ratcliffe’s chapter was likely written months ago. Books are not written and released in a few weeks.
However, Ratcliffe has already made his feelings clear on one member of the United squad, as per the Daily Mail. In the opening page of his new book, Ratcliffe spoke about his travels and recalled a trip around the Pacific Ocean. During this time, he ‘felt the ground tremble every time a Cook Islander smashed into another in a local rugby match’ and added that one player was ‘carted off in the back of a pick-up with a broken leg’.
Ratcliffe then noted that experience was ‘a far cry from Bruno Fernandes clutching his untouched face in the Liverpool debacle recently’. This is presumably referring to Fernandes’ performance and play-acting during United’s humbling 7-0 defeat against Jurgen Klopp’s Reds back in March.
Ah, so Ratcliffe has not ‘made his feelings clear’ on Fernandes but on one performance from Fernandes. And it’s fair to say that no Manchester United fan was keen on Fernandes’ performance in that particular sh*t-show.
And the word ‘recently’ really does suggest that Ratcliffe has not ‘aimed a pointed dig at Bruno Fernandes in his new book – eight months since the Manchester United midfielder’s infamous antics against Liverpool’, but merely mentioned his play-acting (fresh in his mind) in passing as he reminisced about a journey around the Pacifics.
Almost like it’s not a f***ing story.
But the Mirror are so convinced that it is the biggest story of the day that they went again just a few hours later, just in case you missed the first iteration:
Bruno Fernandes faces awkward meeting with Sir Jim Ratcliffe after swipe at Man Utd star
Yes, we imagine Fernandes will be fuming about a throw-away line written by Ratcliffe months ago about a performance which attracted a boat-load of opprobrium.
But this is our favourite line…
The billionaire will meet with key figures once his takeover has been ratified and, while club executives and manager Erik ten Hag will be first on the list, as club captain, Fernandes will also be spoken to.
But will he speak back after that almighty ‘swipe’?
Over in The Times, Martin Samuel has taken a big old pile of money to re-write an old column from the Daily Mail in which he raged against Manchester United being described as an ‘impossible job’.
Using a few more words, he basically writes the same thing in 2023, after his ears pricked up at comments from Erik ten Hag last week.
It’s not an impossible job. That much is plain. Managing Manchester United to success is about as far from the impossible as it can get in football.
What Chris Wilder is attempting at Sheffield United, that’s close to impossible. The same goes for Rob Edwards at Luton Town. If the new puritans at the Premier League remove another ten points from Everton, perhaps Sean Dyche would fit into the category. But managing Manchester United? An impossibility? Was Erik ten Hag joking?
“Everyone was telling me, ‘You can’t succeed in that job,’ ” he claimed last week. “They said it was impossible.” Really? Who were these people? Had they paid any attention to the hierarchy and history of English football?
So Erik ten Hag has not said it was an ‘impossible job’, but he was told that. Which is hardly surprising given that the job has swallowed up David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
There are 20 managers in the Premier League and, at a guess, three quarters of them would prefer to be managing United. Even now. Even managers looking down the table at them. Do you think Unai Emery would be at Aston Villa if United had come in for him when he left Villarreal? The same with Ange Postecoglou at Tottenham Hotspur. Eddie Howe looks well set with Newcastle United because he has made them a success but when he took over 19th in the league constituted improvement. Had he been given the opportunity to go to Old Trafford instead, do you not think he would have taken it?
Martin Samuel might be surprised to see Newcastle below Manchester United in the Premier League table, but he should not be surprised to find that managing Manchester United is an attractive proposition as it pays more than almost every other managerial job in the Premier League. Samuel himself should know a thing or two about the lure of the biggest wages.
So when Ten Hag said he was advised of the impossibility of United, it begs the question – based on what? Big club, big budget, the history and politics of the game on their side. If Villa finish second on goal difference this season, and United finish fourth and 25 points behind them, United would still be seeded more favourably in the 2024-25 Champions League draw. They enjoy enormous privilege as a member of the elite. What makes managing them impossible?
Mediawatch presumes that Samuel understands the difference in expectation in managing Aston Villa and Manchester United and is just being facetious. Surely be cannot be so naive as to think that with ‘enormous privilege’ there does not come enormous pressure?
Emery would not get sacked for taking Villa to seventh this season; Ten Hag probably should and probably will.
Anthony Martial was their striker against Bournemouth. He turned in another of those performances he has been delivering for nine seasons now. Martial’s involvement featured zero runs with the ball, let alone goals or assists; but he did give the ball away 11 times. He was lacklustre, he was insipid — and he was the same against Newcastle the previous weekend, when Ten Hag berated him for it. Yet there he was, back in the starting line-up: why?
Because Rasmus Hojlund needed a rest after coming back from injury and Martial was the only other available striker? And he has at least scored in the Premier League this season. We’re not sure Ten Hag could magic up a different striker in time for the clash with Bournemouth, Martin.
The official line, no doubt, is that Ten Hag has to rotate his squad because he has a vital game with Bayern Munich on Tuesday. Rasmus Hojlund is the Champions League’s joint top scorer this season with five, beside Manchester City’s Erling Haaland and Álvaro Morata of Atletico Madrid. Yet Haaland isn’t rested in league games by City when their Champions League group is alive. And Hojlund wouldn’t be rested by United if he was scoring prolifically. The fact is, in English football the 20-year-old is yet to find the net. Those five European goals are his total and, after his yellow card against Bournemouth, he has now been booked more often than he has scored in the Premier League. So, again, what’s impossible?
You have literally just described a complete lack of striker options that being a ‘big club’ with a ‘big budget, the history and politics of the game on their side’ has not insulated Manchester United against.
Especially when that ‘big club’ with a ‘big budget, the history and politics of the game on their side’ has no recruitment expertise.
Nobody is arguing that Ten Hag is doing a brilliant job but you have to admit that it is a difficult one at a club with no structure.
It should be very possible to find goals as the manager of Manchester United with £72 million, at least, to spend on a striker. It does, however, require the right striker. They should have fought harder for Harry Kane but possessed no one at the club with the wit or confidence to go toe to toe with Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman. Should Ten Hag have pushed harder too? Most certainly.
For the 427th time, Tottenham would not have sold Harry Kane to Manchester United for even £100m; they would have had to offer a ludicrous amount of money. This is the dullest narrative of 2023 and it has no basis in fact.
Yes, ‘Munich got it done’ but Munich were dealing with a Daniel Levy willing to sell for much less money.
There was a lot wrong at the club, but no more than was wrong at Newcastle, or Tottenham, or Villa. Even City had finished fourth in the 2015-16 season, 15 points adrift of the champions, Leicester City, when Pep Guardiola walked into the club. Arsenal were tenth the day Mikel Arteta was appointed in 2019; and Liverpool had never been champions in the modern era when Jürgen Klopp arrived in 2015.
Ten Hag is definitely not doing as well as Guardiola – we’ll give you that – but it might be worth mentioning that the Dutchman’s record after 54 Premier League games is actually better than either Mikel Arteta at Arsenal or Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
Yet these were not impossible jobs, either. Here were big, well-financed elite institutions with issues demanding resolution, but significant advantages over most contemporaries and opponents once pointed in the right direction. Just like United, in fact. So, compared to the majority of his contemporaries, Ten Hag is a very lucky guy. If he has turned that good fortune into the impossible job, it’s on him and no one else.
He has never described this as an ‘impossible job’, Martin. But that’s irrelevant when constructing a massive straw man to set alight.
We prefer to listen to the experts on such matters so here’s Gary Neville:
“I know people say you can’t blame the Glazers but yeah you can. Yeah you can because 10 years of failure and miserable recruitment comes down to the fact they have not got a sporting director or a proper head of recruitment in place.
“That is why this happens. Ultimately managers look above them and think they haven’t got anyone above them so they might as well just do it themselves. This is all down to the leadership.
“If it happened once, fair enough, if it happened twice you would ask a question but this is five times, five times in 10 years. They have spent a billion quid, on the limit of FFP, £700m in debt, £300m going to other clubs, the bank overdraft is at £250-300m, they are £1.2bn under.”
And yet certain people are paid an awful lot of money just to point to the man in the dug-out and say ‘he’s sh*t’. And that particular job is not even remotely difficult, never mind impossible.