Football Digest: Man Utd urged to give Ten Hag time he needs
Manchester United are in crisis after eight defeats from their first 15 matches of the season. United declared it “categorically false” that they are exploring alternatives to Erik ten Hag and they are desperate not to sack him – but clearly the Dutchman’s future is far from certain as it stands. In Express Sport’s latest Big Debate, we ask members of our team – do United need to axe Ten Hag?
Neil Squires – No. Erik ten Hag is struggling, just as his Manchester United side are struggling, but he has not reached the point of no-return yet. The back catalogue of indifferent performances turns up the temperature but a losing run of two matches should not cost a manager his job – however high profile it is. If there is no upturn at Fulham today or Copenhagen in midweek, let’s talk again ahead of United’s next home game next Saturday against Luton Town.
Joe Krishnan – Yes. Erik ten Hag was brought in to give Manchester United an identity similar to his philosophy at Ajax that guaranteed winning. But with every week, United are getting worse and he’s run out of ideas. What’s more, Ten Hag spent over £400m in two seasons but his signings have been poor – in particular Andre Onana and Antony. A decent start at Old Trafford has turned sour, and it might be time for Julian Nagelsmann to turn things around.
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Charlie Gordon – No. Ten Hag brings the kind of authoritarian personality fans loved last season when results were going their way. Bold calls involving Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho, as well as a huge influence over transfer dealings, have left him exposed, and while results and performances have been dismal this term, United’s successful 2022/23 campaign suggests that cutting ties now would be way too hasty. Let’s not forget that without Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw, Ten Hag has been plugging away in the absence of his entire back-four. Marcus Rashford is a confidence player who currently has none, but the United boss has already shown that he can get the best out of him, and Rasmus Hojlund is a raw talent who should continue to improve. Ten Hag is a good manager in a tough spell, don’t write him off just yet.
Sam Smith – Yes. Ten Hag’s negativity, lack of character, intriguing team selections, and hardline punishments for his stars are all factors reminiscent of Jose Mourinho’s final weeks in 2018. The best possible candidate for the United job was sitting in the opposition dugout on Wednesday night, with Eddie Howe leading Newcastle to a 3-0 victory. With Howe likely unattainable, the youthful Ruben Amorim might be able to cultivate a Mikel Arteta-esque overhaul.
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Jack McEachen – No. Erik ten Hag deserves more time before the club pulls the trigger. There is no question over their underperformance, but his team selection has often been dictated by injuries and the Dutchman should at least get the chance to field a pair of healthy full-backs before being given his marching orders. The next four games against Fulham, Copenhagen, Luton and Everton may well decide his future as poor performances and results in this run of games would be indefensible – Roberto De Zerbi is my pick as his replacement if Ten Hag were to leave.
Charlie Malam – No. At not least not right now. I hear the argument for him to be sacked because of the 15 matches United have played this season, the only one in which they were convincing was the Carabao Cup win over Crystal Palace. Still, there are some mitigating factors that should earn Ten Hag a few more weeks including injuries and just how inefficient the structure at the club is. The run of five games coming up – Fulham, Copenhagen, Luton, Everton, Galatasaray – will be decisive. If United aren’t any better by the end of this month, the club’s decision might reluctantly be made for them. But we’ll be here again with the next manager in a few years’ time until the structure above the coach is sorted out. So stick with him until Sir Jim Ratcliffe comes in and changes it up because Ten Hag is clearly a good coach and can still be a success. But that outcome requires things not to get even worse on the pitch in the next weeks…
Matt Dunn – Yes. Emphatically, yes, but not necessarily yet. As feared, the project manager from Ajax is struggling to mould a cohesive unit from established egos. The good news is that he is making such a bad fist of it at the moment that this season has already gone and United can already look towards the next campaign. To that end, there is likely to be one standout candidate available after the summer capable of operating within a behemoth of an organisation in which he has to manage upwards as well as closely man-manage the dressing room below him. Step forward Gareth Southgate after Euro 2024 with his joined-up thinking that can untangle the mess at Old Trafford.
Alex Turk – No. Manchester United have danced this dance too many times since Sir Alex Ferguson with little reward. With a promising new sporting direction on the horizon, now is the time for the decision-makers to stick with the project they’ve invested heavily in. They’ll backtrack another 18 months if not.
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