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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Manchester United set new transfer policy and water down Erik ten Hag’s power

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Football

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Manchester United are seeking to build a dynamic young squad primarily based on signings under the age of 24, as they now overhaul recruitment after finally making a decision on Erik ten Hag’s future. The Dutch coach will have a slightly altered influence amid contract extension talks, where he won’t have the same responsibility over signings. The new Ineos hierarchy ultimately felt it was only fair to give Ten Hag a chance at showing what he can do within this new structure, which is closer to the Ajax system where he forged his reputation.

While the aim is to quickly restore United as a Champions League club, one of the significant points raised in the internal review – as reported by The Independent two weeks ago – was how Arsenal benefited from patience with Mikel Arteta. Ineos have paid attention to how the London club steeled themselves through a miserable 2020-21 period as the Basque coach transformed the profile of the squad to a much younger team who were gradually being integrated into his tactical ideal.

Ten Hag is being given the chance to do the same. One argument that did come up in the review was how the manager’s specific ideal wasn’t always visible in games. That is where the comparisons with Arteta do fall down slightly. One of the main issues in the Arsenal manager’s first two seasons almost came from too rigidly adhering to a tactical approach he was trying to ingrain into the team, which could lead to prosaic and methodical football. It evidently had a huge long-term benefit, however. A difference is that Ten Hag has constantly gone for the short term. The story of United’s 2023-24 season was constantly compromising for absences.

The internal review ultimately accepted that much of this was down to injuries in key positions, while certain signings took a while to bed in. It was something that persisted even to the result that ultimately saved Ten Hag’s job, in the FA Cup final.

The Independent has been told that the manager initially considered going toe to toe with Manchester City, before a long consultation with his staff ultimately led to the defensive approach that has been proven as the most effective against Pep Guardiola’s football. The team really applied themselves to that, and came out deserving 2-1 winners.

Erik ten Hag’s current deal is due to expire next summer (Nick Potts/PA)

Erik ten Hag’s current deal is due to expire next summer (Nick Potts/PA) (PA Wire)

That reinforced Ten Hag’s popularity with the supporters, and the United hierarchy acknowledged how important that is. The decision to keep the Dutch coach, a direct consequence of those tactics, may well prove another hinge moment.

Could this be one of those classic stories where a manager narrowly gets through adversity to go on and build a dynasty? That of course has a real resonance in United’s history. Or, is it just delaying the inevitable? Could it merely mean another wasted season if it doesn’t work out? Is it just place-holding? The very fact United are discussing a contract extension with Ten Hag somewhat negates the latter, but there are enough other details clouding the view.

The club were actively speaking to other managers. One description within the game was that Ten Hag was almost being interviewed for his own job. Ineos might well say that speaking to as many people as possible is essential for a thorough review, but it’s still a curious situation for a manager they have now placed their trust in to know they at one point had such little trust they were actively considering replacements.

Ultimately, for all United’s insistence on the elements that decided Ten Hag’s future, it still partly came down to no other current candidate convincing them to change. There similarly remains a suspicion that the manager they are holding for is Gareth Southgate. His connections with key figures like Sir Dave Brailsford are well known, and some see him as a priority. It was just too politically difficult to do this summer, with the timing not aligning.

All of which leaves Ten Hag still in the job. The club will now press on with trying to overhaul recruitment, and gradually shift the squad to one that is much more youth-based and dynamic.

There is an argument that this is what exactly suits Ten Hag, given that success at Ajax. This is what he will now get the chance to prove.

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