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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

A trophy doesn’t fix this

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Manchester United’s new leadership has a decision to make regarding the future of the club and whether or not Erik ten Hag will have a role in that.

United face City on Saturday in a rematch of the 2023 FA Cup Final, which highlighted just how far off the two sides were even in a season where United reached two cup finals and finished comfortably in third. It was a sobering wake-up after the season had been somewhat derailed heading into the final stretch. A 7-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield, a 5-2 aggregate loss to Sevilla after leading 2-0 in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals, and a 2-0 loss to Newcastle exposed weaknesses in the team that would become existential threats to Erik ten Hag’s project in 2023/24.

And this time he has no answers.

The Reds are going to Wembley as massive underdogs even compared to a year ago. They’ve just wrapped up a club-worst eighth-placed finish in the Premier League in a season that also saw them finish dead last in their UEFA Champions League group. They have conceded 84 goals in all competitions and finished with a -1-goal difference in the league.

Off the pitch, we’ve also seen a public falling out between ten Hag and Jadon Sancho, Antony returning to action after several allegations of domestic violence, and even an attempt to bring Mason Greenwood back into the side by the manager and former executives, thwarted only by leaked documents stoking severe external backlash toward then-chief executive Richard Arnold.

There is more than enough for the new regime to clean up, literally and figuratively (I have been to the Old Trafford bathrooms and did not expect to feel thankful for my hometown SEC school stadium), but there is more than enough happening on the pitch to justify the level of speculation we’ve seen over the manager position.

At this time in 2016 there was little doubt over the future of Louis van Gaal, and now it feels the same with Erik ten Hag.

Reports have emerged about a manager candidate shortlist put together by new executives Omar Berrada and Jason Wilcox. Names mentioned in the media include Roberto De Zerbi, Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel, and Kieran McKenna.

It isn’t quite yet time to dissect the names and who would be the preferred candidate for tactics or vibes, we can do that later, but it is time for the decision-makers to know whether it is time to move on or not. That is not a decision that can be made for them by one performance in the FA Cup Final.

You should live in the matchday moment. You should want your team to win trophies, even against the seemingly insurmountable odds United face with their sports-washing superteam rival. You should enjoy the goals and fear conceding.

Enjoy what you can from the experience, always, but there isn’t much to hold onto win or lose on Saturday. There are no more gaps to grasp or cracks to claw. The writing is on the wall with the latest reports that discussions are already happening. There isn’t anything more that we can learn about Erik ten Hag from one match, and no decision should be swayed by the outcome on Saturday.

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