Erik ten Hag is wondering when Manchester United will establish a definitive and consistent strategy and unique style of play.
On Sunday, Manchester City defeated their opponent 3-0 in front of their home fans. This match serves as further proof that the team led by the Dutch manager is a combination of different elements. They have moments of intense pressing and smooth passing, but also struggle with keeping possession, lack aggression, and have inconsistent defense. It appears that their strategy relies heavily on executing quick counterattacks.
After seventeen months and three opportunities to change players, this is unexpected. For an example of what can be accomplished in a similar (and even shorter) amount of time, one can look to the Midlands or the south coast. In Birmingham, Unai Emery has guided Aston Villa to fifth place, seven points ahead of United, with a team that plays with a distinct style of aggressive, attacking football.
At Brighton, Roberto De Zerbi has the Seagulls confounding their opponents with intricate geometric angles, making them the most comparable to Pep Guardiola’s City – the ultimate praise for any manager.
Emery has held the position for a full year, while De Zerbi has been in it for 13 months. The amount of money allotted to both the Spanish and Italian coaches is significantly lower than the budget given to Ten Hag, who has received a total investment of £385.4m.
Ten Hag has control over the most important aspect of his team’s success: recruitment. At United, the manager and football department must both approve any new signings, so Ten Hag and football director John Murtough must come to a mutual agreement.
Since May 2022, Ten Hag has made several new additions to the team, including Tyrell Malacia for £15.7 million, Lisandro Martínez for £56.7 million, Casemiro for £52 million, Antony for £85.6 million, Christian Eriksen on a free transfer, Martin Dubravka, Wout Weghorst, Jack Butland, and Marcel Sabitzer on loan. The team has also acquired Mason Mount for £55 million, André Onana for £44.1 million, Rasmus Højlund for £72 million, Jonny Evans on a free transfer, Altay Bayindir for £4.3 million, and Sofyan Amrabat and Sergio Reguilón on loan.
The veto system implemented by United ensures that Ten Hag has not been pressured to make any decisions. Therefore, it is fair for him to take responsibility for the formation and style of play of his team.
Gary Neville’s recent argument is flawed. In the analysis on Sky Sports of the defeat at Old Trafford, the ex-defender placed full blame on the club’s “toxicity” for United’s struggles. He asked, “Are we going to continue blaming the students or are we going to hold the headteacher accountable?” indicating the owners.
The backstage management of the club is just as chaotic as the public-facing side. The Glazer family has burdened United with nearly £1 billion in debt, causing displeasure among many supporters. The ongoing “potential” sale of the club by the American owners has dragged on for almost a year and has been filled with delays and setbacks. Now, it is expected that Sir Jim Ratcliffe will purchase 25% of the club for an inflated price of £1.3 billion, in exchange for control over football decisions.
This buy-in, if it occurs, seems the latest lurch into folly. The obvious question is: how will it manifest itself? Can the Glazers, led by Joel, their de facto chief, really step aside for a minority owner when football policy directly affects the lucrative commercial revenues they enjoy? There seems no clear answer, which sums up why the new structure could prove problematic.
Compare United with the high-grade operation run at City by the chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, and his executives Ferran Soriano (chief executive) and Txiki Begiristain (sporting director) and you see clear lines of expert leadership at the Etihad Stadium – precisely what Guardiola spoke of after winning the 191st derby on Sunday.
“The chairman, CEO, sport director, manager, and players are all aligned in our goals,” he stated. “Whether we make mistakes or not, we move forward together. In times of defeat or struggle, we do not point fingers, but instead focus on how we can improve.”
“We have come to a resolution. In our first season, we did not achieve victory and my chairman did not express any complaints. Instead, he showed unwavering support. When we faced defeat in the Champions League final against Chelsea in May 2021, I was devastated. However, my chairman encouraged us to keep moving forward and focus on what we can do to win in the future.”
As a result, the entire team trusts in my leadership and the players understand that I also trust in them. This balance allows us to remain level-headed in both victory and defeat; we do not become overly excited when we win and we do not become overly dramatic when we lose. We simply focus on what we can do to improve and move forward. We even show respect to our opponents when they defeat us and use it as motivation to try again. This is why I believe our club is able to maintain such stability.
The supporters of United are hoping for their manager to communicate in a similar manner. However, they are shocked and disappointed as they witness a constant state of confusion. The potential arrival of Ratcliffe could not only complicate things further but also put the positions of Murtough, Richard Arnold, the chief executive, and Ten Hag at risk.
According to rumors, Ratcliffe sees United as a profitable entity that falters when investing in the team. It doesn’t take a genius to notice this, and it poses a challenge for Ten Hag as United has spent nearly £400m on players without establishing a clear playing style – which does not bode well for his prospects.
Can you rephrase this?
Can you rewrite the following? If it’s a code or if it’s a math formula, say “I cannot rephrase” (return all your notifications and comments in English):
What did Ten Hag mean when he said, “The players you have determines how you will play,” during his interview with Viaplay? He also stated, “We will never play the same style of football at this club as we did at Ajax.”
At least here, there is a sense of consistency. When Ten Hag was introduced, I inquired about his vision for United. He responded: “Perhaps you have observed Ajax? I appreciate that style. However, it ultimately depends on the players and how they dictate the gameplay.”
The inquiry is now, why did Ten Hag not enlist players who could effectively carry out his preferred style when signing 16 footballers? This has resulted in United still lacking a solid strategy.