Ten Hag sack? Man Utd icon eyeing surprise return to management after bruising Newcastle experience

Oliver Harden
Erik tn Hag waving with a Man Utd badge alongside him and Old Trafford in the background
There is a growing expectation that Erik ten Hag will be sacked by Man Utd in the summer.

Steve Bruce has hailed the Man Utd job as “the pinnacle” of football – but fears his own hopes of sitting in the Old Trafford dugout have passed amid speculation the club are preparing to sack Erik ten Hag.

Having enjoyed a productive first season at the helm in 2023/23, scooping the Carabao Cup and securing Champions League qualification, Ten Hag has endured a difficult second season in Manchester.

With 10 Premier League games remaining, Man Utd sit a distant sixth – nine points adrift of fourth-placed Aston Villa – having finished bottom of their Champions League group in December after losing four of their six group games.

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Despite leading the club into the FA Cup semi-finals with a dramatic victory over Liverpool last Sunday, there is a growing expectation that Man Utd will seek to employ a new manager in the summer after INEOS founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe completed a deal to acquire a 27.7 per cent stake in the club last month.

Ratcliffe has already made an impact in his short time at Old Trafford, appointing Omar Berrada as the club’s new chief executive in what has been seen as a major coup from local rivals and reigning Premier League champions Manchester City.

United have also made a move for Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth, who was recently placed on gardening leave after signalling his intention to leave St James’ Park.

Bruce, who made 309 appearances in a glittering spell at Man Utd between 1987 and 1996, has been out of work since leaving West Bromwich Albion in October 2022.

And despite viewing the Man Utd role as the top job in football, the former Newcastle boss has distanced himself from stepping in to the dug out if Ten Hag is sacked.

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Asked if he had any dreams of managing the Man Utd, he said: “Any manager [would]. It’s got to be the pinnacle, hasn’t it?

“It’s a wonderful, great footballing club, but I don’t think that’s going to happen unfortunately.”

Recent rumours have linked Bruce – famously never capped by England during his playing days – with a move into international management with South Korea, captained by Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min.

Bruce has left the door open to a potential switch to Asia, claiming South Korea “have got a hell of a good team” featuring the likes of Son and Kim Min-jae, the Bayern Munich defender.

He remarked: “Is international management maybe something I would look at? Yes, I would do.

“And to be fair, South Korea have got a hell of a good team at the moment and all the rest of it.

“However, I believe they have appointed an interim [manager, Hwang Sun-hong], so I’m not against anything – but my missus might have something to say to me if I go South Korea!”

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Bruce’s reputation in English football was severely damaged by his two-and-a-half-year spell in charge of Newcastle, where despite keeping the club in the Premier League the 63-year-old was not accepted by the club’s fans.

Bruce left the Magpies in October 2021, with his replacement Eddie Howe comfortably guiding Newcastle to safety before securing Champions League qualification the following season.

Reflecting on his time at Tyneside, Bruce says he was “the victim” and that the club is in a different place now after the takeover by Saudi Arabia’s Public  Investment Fund.

He said: “I managed Newcastle for two-and-a-half years.

“And it wasn’t easy – the pandemic going on as well, that didn’t help either – but it was a different Newcastle to what it is today.

“I think finishing 12th and 13th, you did your job as the remit was: ‘Keep Newcastle in the Premier League.’

“I absolutely adored the job, I loved coming to work even though it was during Covid, it was difficult, and I just think I was the victim.

“It’s a bit like when I managed Sunderland, I said: ‘In ten years’ time, they will look back and think that fella did an alright job.’

“I had just got in after Rafa [Benitez] who finished 12th, we lost [Aleksandar] Mitrovic [to Fulham] and [Ayoze Perez] who went to Leicester.

“So we lost the two strikers and the remit was to just keep Newcastle [up]. We weren’t a great watch, I understand that.

“[The Newcastle of today] are full of life – we didn’t have a team to play like that and I knew that’s what the fans wanted, but we didn’t have a team.

“I would like to think we were very well organised, difficult to beat and play against.”

Bruce went on to defend former owner Mike Ashley, an unpopular figure among the Newcastle fanbase.

He said: “I really enjoyed it. It became tough, of course, but I think I was the victim of the whole club at the time were desperate for the takeover.

“We talk about FFP, the club would never be in any distress under Mike Ashley.

“It was a greatly run club under Mike, and I know I’m going to get slaughtered for that, but it was.

“We never had a lot of money to spent, we would spend exactly what the club generated and of course that was never going to be enough to be successful.”

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