Erik ten Hag’s FA Cup win does nothing to make up for crucial Manchester United shortcoming

Steven Chicken
Erik ten Hag waves to the fans after leading Manchester United to the FA Cup
Erik ten Hag waves to the fans after leading Manchester United to the FA Cup

As goodbye games go – if that is what that was – then Erik ten Hag will feel he has given the club good reason to change their minds on what has reportedly already been done.

As Ten Hag said before Manchester United’s FA Cup final triumph: “Within the club people were satisfied, but outside the club there was noise by saying I won only the Carabao Cup, lost the FA Cup final and came third. Well, then you have no sense of reality. Other clubs had a much better squad.”

Does Manchester United’s FA Cup win add to Erik ten Hag’s aura?

Ten Hag can now add the FA Cup to that list, but used his side’s victory as a means to double down on that immediately after the game, reeling off the injury list that had afflicted them and the players he had back available for their impressive and deserved victory over Manchester City at Wembley.

He is not wrong that the expectations have been unrealistic or that recruitment has been poor. United’s issues have patently extended far beyond the dugout, rising up into the boardroom and extending out onto the pitch. Ineos, to their credit, appear to have identified that and have made a concerted effort to correct it.

But that does not make the apparently already-made decision to ship Ten Hag out wrong. The Dutchman was just the latest manager to have been brought in post-Ferguson to try and instigate a revolution. And we’ll give him this much: they have been revolting at times.

There is no doubt that ten Hag is a very talented coach, and it would not be at all surprising if he were to go on to enjoy great success elsewhere. But there has been precious little sign that was on its way at Manchester United. Not in the way success is defined there, anyway.

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Sad and insubstantial though it may be, optics are important, even if you’re battling relegation in the National League, but especially so at the very elite level, where – as Ineos well know – marginal differences can actually be massive.

When Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp had lean years, there was always an unshakeable faith, both within and without their clubs, that there was nobody better to turn them around. When things went flat – as happens in the lifecycle of any lengthy managerial spell – you knew they were capable of whipping out the managerial Soda Stream. It took years for that aura to wear off Arsene Wenger, and even then his standing remained a subject of passionate yet tedious debate.

Intriguingly, even some extremely successful managers do not have it; Jose Mourinho, despite his huge medal collection, does not, and nor did Fabio Capello or Rafa Benitez. United have history for showing that adding the FA Cup to your cabinet is not reason enough alone for them to change their minds once it is made up.

The unfortunate truth is that, from what he has shown, FA Cup or not, Ten Hag simply does not have that aura, that standing, whatever you want to call it, and that has been his shortcoming as much as the results themselves. If he had, perhaps he could have ridden it out. As it is, his term was always untenable under a new regime determined to get every single detail exactly right.

A nominally less capable manager would genuinely be better placed to lead Manchester United forward from here, at least in the short term; we saw it, briefly, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s purple patch before his deficiencies – and those of the club – were laid increasingly bare like a slow, ghastly strip tease.

But, of course, that is not what they want this time. The quality we are talking about almost eludes definition, but United should know it when they see it. Haven’t, so far, but should.

Finding it is far easier said than done, and there are other problems they have to sort out. The issue for Ten Hag is that they seemingly don’t see it in him.

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