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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Gareth Southgate-shaped cloud will loom over Erik ten Hag next season

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We know that Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos like Gareth Southgate. We also now know that Erik ten Hag will continue at Manchester United and is to be rewarded with a new contract, expected to amount to another three years.What we do not know is how the next few weeks will pan out for Southgate, who has reiterated his view that he will probably have to step down as manager if England do not win the European Championship.We also know that view is not shared by the Football Association, who want Southgate to stay and do not believe it is as black and white as winning a tournament to decide his future. In fact, they would be delighted if he indicated he would sign a new deal beyond his current contract, which expires on December 31.Southgate wants to stay. His dream is to take England to the 2026 World Cup as European champions. It would mark 10 years in charge. On Sunday, he will manage his 96th England game, one ahead of Sir Bobby Robson. But if England do not triumph in Berlin in the Euros finals on July 14, though, the likelihood is he will go.If United wanted to hire him, as they ran through their options to potentially replace Ten Hag as part of their end-of-season review, there was never any chance it could have been Southgate. Even if he was their overwhelming first-choice.Southgate would never have entered into negotiations. No way. His focus was and is fully on England and he would never have forgiven himself if he allowed his own future to distract from the chance to win a first trophy since 1966. Southgate understands and respects the responsibility of the job. One of his most vivid memories is the public reaction as the England bus headed to the last Euros finals at Wembley.Southgate also knows how it usually ends for England managers and he does not want the accusation that he was distracted to be levelled against him, along with the stigma attached to that.But the intriguing thing will be what happens should Southgate leave. The 53-year-old is unlikely to even consider another job until the end of this year, when his FA contract runs out. He will want to leave a gap between his departure and any new venture.He also knows that it might be easier for him, as with previous England managers such as Robson, if his next job is overseas. It is a prospect that interests him as he has suggested he one day wants to be a club manager again. And he knows it might be easier for him to do that away from the glare of English football and being an ex-manager of the national team.But what if Ten Hag does not achieve what Ineos and Man Utd believe he is capable of once he has the full backing of their new sporting structure under Dan Ashworth, when he eventually arrives as sporting director, and technical director Jason Wilcox?Can Ten Hag take Man Utd to greater heights next season? – PA/John WaltonWhat if next season is also, unfortunately, a struggle for Ten Hag and Southgate has left England and is therefore, in theory, available?There are so many ‘what ifs’ in those questions that it is a case of hypotheticals run riot. But in the endorsement of Ten Hag, and the admiration for the dedication he has brought to the role and the dignity and professionalism with which he has conducted himself, there is also the obvious knowledge that United cannot stomach another season like last season in the Premier League.No-one wishes Ten Hag out of a job. He may be a little lucky to remain in post but there were clear mitigations which may not exist next season. So, if he struggles again he may struggle to see out the campaign.It does not mean this will align with a move for Southgate. But evidently Ineos decided there was not a better candidate than Ten Hag to run United at this time. That may change. Other managers might become available and if Ten Hag does not turn it around he cannot expect to carry on.United have argued that just because there was an expectation from many quarters that they would sack Ten Hag it does not mean they should give into what was termed a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. There is logic and strength in that although the claim that taking more than two weeks to conduct their review was not unreasonable is less convincing. Still United believe they have alighted on the right outcome.As ever time will tell. Ten Hag may have fortune on his side but he has earned that fortune. It is now for him to fully prove himself and without excuses. Otherwise the speculation will grow and if Southgate is available that spectre will grow also – whether he wants it or not.

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