Ten Hag is still Man Utd manager, but is the situation tenable?

Published on: 13 June 2024

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Following an extensive end-of-season review lasting more than two weeks, new co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS director of sport Sir Dave Brailsford have concluded that Erik ten Hag is the right man to be Manchester United manager. For now.

But there's no escaping the fact that the Dutchman has been made to wait more than three months for any real show of support. Ratcliffe's deal to buy a 27.7% stake in the club was ratified in February and, since then, the British billionaire has danced around the subject of who should be United's manager. Even after winning the FA Cup following a thrilling, if surprise, 2-1 victory over Manchester City in the final, Ratcliffe's interaction with Ten Hag was limited to a firm handshake. Pep Guardiola, City's manager, got a full-on hug.

Since Wembley, there has been nothing but silence.

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It's Ratcliffe's mantra that "you should always walk towards the right solution rather than run to the wrong one," but for 16 days United have been stuck in stasis. Late on Tuesday, sources told ESPN that, with the review finally concluded, Ten Hag would stay on as manager. Club sources insisted it was the "clear conclusion" and hinted that a contract extension could be on the way.

But that ignores the fact that United have had serious reservations about whether to continue with the former Ajax Amsterdam boss. Brailsford made his own doubts clear by sanctioning conversations with other candidates before the end of the season. Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Frank, Graham Potter, Kieran McKenna and Roberto De Zerbi were all sounded out in one way or another with news leaking out in the week before the cup final.

It prompted one report on the eve of the final that Ten Hag would be sacked regardless of the result against City, but at no point did United contact the Dutchman's representatives to play it down. On the back of probably his biggest win as United boss, Ten Hag was defiant in the Wembley press room saying that if the owners "don't want me, then I go somewhere else to win trophies because that is what I do."

There were moments in his post-match news conference where you felt his frustration reaching boiling point, but it was directed as much at Ratcliffe and Brailsford as it was towards the reporters asking the questions. The issue now is what happens next?

Ten Hag will, in some form, be involved in United's summer transfer business and begin the new campaign as manager. But after harbouring so many doubts, it's easy to see a scenario where INEOS makes a change at the first sign of trouble next season.

It opens up the possibility of appointing Gareth Southgate, who hasn't wanted to engage in talks about other jobs while he focuses on leading England at Euro 2024. The timing of appointing Southgate this summer never worked with United set to play their first preseason friendly against Rosenborg in Norway on July 15, just 24 hours after the Euros final.

ESPN sources have confirmed that that Erik ten Hag will stay on as Man United manager, but has the damage at Old Trafford already been done? Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

Southgate has been vague about his future beyond the tournament in Germany and his contract with the FA runs out at the end of the year. A poor run of form early in the season could easily cost Ten Hag his job and approaching Southgate in September or October is a far easier task than trying to do it while he's preparing for a major tournament.

Brailsford and incoming sporting director Dan Ashworth are both big fans of Southgate, but he hasn't managed a club side since being sacked by Middlesbrough in 2009. He's done well with England, reaching the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018 and the final of Euro 2020, but there would likely be outcry among fans if he turned up at Old Trafford.

News of Ten Hag's survival on Tuesday felt more like a stay of execution rather than a rubber-stamped approval. Ten Hag will hope that he's proved right and that with a fully fit squad, results pick up and he's able to secure his future with positive performances and results on the pitch. Until then, though, his future will stay on a knife-edge. Every early-season set-back will be followed by questions about his future while the shadows of out-of-work managers like Southgate, Tuchel, Potter, Pochettino and De Zerbi will hover ominously in the background.

United's form has dipped significantly since winning the Carabao Cup in February 2023 -- they have lost more than a third of their 74 games since beating Newcastle United at Wembley and finished eighth in the Premier League last season -- and Ten Hag will need an upturn in results quickly if he's going to completely expel the doubters.

Club bosses insisted the decision on Ten Hag's future brought "clarity" to the situation, but in reality it does anything but. Ten Hag is the manager for now and that's all. It could yet be a very short reprieve.

Source: espn.co.uk

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