As Gary Neville said, ‘Groundhog Day’ has arrived at Old Trafford again. Manchester United have spent £360m to have six managers ‘lose the dressing room’.
10) Patrice Evra
The popular line was that David Moyes never ‘lost’ the Manchester United dressing room; he never had it in the first place. A dreadful summer transfer window, the decision to bring in his own coaches and a general eagerness to stamp his own authority on a club run autocratically for almost three decades undermined any hope Moyes had of succeeding from the start.
An open pursuit of Everton left-back Leighton Baines immediately put him on the back foot, according to one report at the time in The Guardian. Going further, Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News later recounted an anecdote of how Patrice Evra, a popular dressing-room figure who teammates ‘looked up to’ and Moyes instantly tried to replace, ‘openly defied’ a demand from the Scot ‘to resist the breakfast buffet in the private departures’ lounge’ before one game.
Evra responded by eating a bacon roll and then jokingly promising bacon and sausage rolls to his teammates through the plane’s intercom onboard the flight. The Frenchman painted himself as one of Moyes’ few allies in the squad in his 2021 autobiography, but then he would do that.
9) Rio Ferdinand
Another culinary clash saw Moyes lose any remaining support by banning chips, reportedly after seeing Alexander Buttner lay into a plate of them in the canteen.
“Moyes has been gone about 20 minutes, we’re on the bikes warming up for the first training session and one of the lads says: ‘You know what? We’ve got to get on to Giggsy. We’ve got to get him to get us our f**king chips back’,” Ferdinand wrote a few months after Moyes was sacked.
The defender’s other tales – many of which were subsequently denied by Moyes – included the manager making Manchester United train in a public park before a game against Bayern Munich, having Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic watch tapes of Phil Jagielka to improve and revealing team news too late.
“I didn’t like him for bringing my Man United career to an end really,” Ferdinand said in 2021. “It was down to him really and I didn’t like that.” And boy did it show.
8) Memphis Depay
It was during their final union at the World Cup in Qatar that Memphis Depay said he once “thought Van Gaal was a dickhead”. The Dutch forward added: “I only realised it later. I blamed everyone at the time – everyone except myself.”
The inability to get a coherent tune out of Depay was the source of immense frustration throughout the Manchester United squad, a report from Mark Ogden in The Independent said. He was ‘regarded as being allowed to waste his talent due to Van Gaal’s mis-management,’ and many felt he should have faced repercussions for sending a ‘negative message’ by driving expensive cars during periods of poor form. Oh, those halcyon days.
7) Bastian Schweinsteiger
That Ogden article cited one source as saying that Schweinsteiger was allowed to “take the p*ss” during his many injury absences in Van Gaal’s second year in charge, with the manager ‘blamed’ for the situation.
Schweinsteiger was signed from Bayern Munich as an experienced leader despite the German club’s manager, Pep Guardiola, having openly condemned his fitness levels; the midfielder started 22 games for Manchester United and completed the full 90 minutes just 12 times.
Daniel Taylor, then of The Guardian, wrote that: ‘Schweinsteiger has spent large parts of the season injured and his tendency to return to Germany, flying in and out for United’s matches, has gone down badly, to say the least. Van Gaal gave Schweinsteiger preferential treatment because he saw him as someone who will carry out his instructions to a tee.’
6) Paul Pogba
It’s difficult to know where to start with this one. The “virus” situation. The vice-captaincy stuff. The frequent public and private sniping from both sides. Pogba reportedly shouting “he f***ed with the wrong baller” and high-fiving teammates when the news of Mourinho’s demise broke.
‘This was not about player power or even players getting the manager the sack,’ John Cross of the Daily Mirror wrote, pinpointing Mourinho’s clashes with the popular Pogba as crucial to his exit. ‘It was about the dynamics of the dressing room and Mourinho not being able to move with the times.
‘When it was suggested that Mourinho had lost 90 per cent of the dressing room, the joke among the players was they did not know who the remaining ten per cent were.’
5) Luke Shaw
A similar story engulfed Shaw, who Mourinho gaslit for a couple of bizarre years at Old Trafford. It reached a stage where the ‘angry’ left-back confronted his manager to ask why he was ‘picking on’ him, which doubtless only egged Mourinho on.
The incidents are too numerous to list in full. The pair were said to have had ‘one final bust-up’ before the Portuguese’s departure in December 2018, Jack Gaughan of the Daily Mail stating that an injury which ruled Shaw out of Mourinho’s final two games had particularly frustrated the manager.
Even on the rare occasions Mourinho praised Shaw, it was with the most ruthless of backhands. “He had a good performance but it was his body with my brain,” remains an all-time quote.
4) Harry Maguire
It should be said that Eric Bailly, a popular figure in the Manchester United dressing room for years, had a point. It was a ludicrous decision to pick a half-fit Harry Maguire against Leicester in October 2021 and it backfired accordingly. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had been swayed by Sir Alex Ferguson into a bout of weak management and he was gone a month later.
Bailly, according to James Ducker of the Daily Telegraph, ‘openly challenged’ Solskjaer over the call ‘during a frank exchange of views’.
3) Anthony Elanga
One of the stranger hills to die on, it was Luckhurst again who wrote that “some players found Anthony Elanga’s playing time mind-boggling” during Ralf Rangnick’s catastrophic interim reign.
The Swedish forward was perhaps the sole success story of Rangnick’s five months in charge, ranking joint-second for appearances under the German alongside Bruno Fernandes and behind only David de Gea. Elanga scored a Champions League knockout stage goal against Atletico Madrid and was described by Rangnick as a “role model”.
But his minutes perplexed some players at a time of hilarious mutiny. This was the time Paul Scholes told a public television broadcast that he had spoken with Jesse Lingard, then still at the club, who had told him “the dressing room is just a disaster”, with ‘toxic’ among the other terms used to sum up a club which Rangnick himself said needed “open-heart surgery” performed as soon as possible.
2) Cristiano Ronaldo
“This is what I’ve been hearing, from a Man United player who told someone I know very well. He said the players are not having the manager. They’re not having him at all. By all accounts, they are disgusted by the way he treated Ronaldo.”
There is neither enough salt, nor a suitable receptacle for it, to take with Alan Brazil’s claim from September on talkSPORT. But still. There it is.
A reminder that “the way” Ten Hag “treated Ronaldo” was to phase out a 37-year-old who had earned upwards of £500,000 a week scoring one goal in his last 11 Premier League games, who had refused to come on as a substitute in one match, and who forced his exit in a sycophantic interview with Piers Morgan during which both emphasised how Ronaldo wanted to play Champions League football, shortly before he left to move to Saudi Arabia.
1) Jadon Sancho
It was pure Kaveh Solhekol to describe Ten Hag as having “lost elements of the dressing room,” before quoting one source as “telling me that he’s lost about 50 per cent of the dressing room”. Absolute theatre from the big man. Sterling work.
Rob Dawson of ESPN says ‘a group within the first-team squad are becoming disillusioned’ and both reports list intense training sessions and confusing tactics among the issues currently threatening Ten Hag’s position.
But it is the impasse with Sancho which remains a key sticking point for much of the squad. “A few of the players are also unhappy at how Jadon Sancho has been treated,” Solhekol added. “He’s got people in the dressing room who are close to him and he’s been totally frozen out because he’s refused to apologise. He’s training with the kids and he’s eating on his own. Quite a few of the players feel like that has gone too far.”
And so the cycle continues.
Here we go. Groundhog Day https://t.co/Jc6XiAuupY
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) December 4, 2023