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Monday, June 24, 2024

Ten Hag heads off on holiday with his neck still in a noose at United

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Erik ten Hag stood stoically in the technical area at Wembley, the trousers of his Cup final suit riding up to reveal milky white ankles. Socked in the morning?Another Dutchman who led United into an FA Cup final with his neck in a noose knows exactly how this feels.Louis van Gaal was stood in Ten Hag’s shoes eight years ago in 2016. Van Gaal won that day too, beating Crystal Palace, and picked up the Cup shortly before his P45. He believed the promises made to him by the United hierarchy, even when his wife Truus warned him that former United chief Ed Woodward was sharpening the axe.‘A woman has an instinct for things like this,’ Van Gaal later recalled. ‘I did not see what Woodward was up to. I really did not sense that they were plotting something. Erik ten Hag’s future remains in the balance despite Man United’s FA Cup triumph over City Eight years ago, Louis van Gaal was fired as Man United boss after winning the FA Cup final  Whatever happens, Ten Hag was showered in love from fans and players after the game ‘I was wholly convinced that I’d be able to see out my contract and have a third season at United.’Ten Hag also thought that reaching the Cup final would be enough to bomb-proof the third year of his deal at Old Trafford, and believe the reassurances from Ineos that he was still their man — even when they have been holding secret talks with Thomas Tuchel and Kieran McKenna, the first candidates standing in line for his job.When he spoke to us on the eve of the Cup final, he didn’t sound at all like a man who believed this would be his last game in charge.Ten Hag took a similar stance in an interview with Dutch outlet Voetbal International that emerged on Saturday, saying: ‘Ineos have told me they want to rebuild with me. Let me be clear. It has been bad. It has been c**p. Last year (they say) I was able to walk on water, this year I am the worst manager in the Premier League. But despite everything, we are going to play an FA Cup final.‘Manchester United won the League for the last time in 2013, 11 years ago. But, still, they expect us to win every game while competing at the top — this club is not ready for that.‘We were supposed to start building something and we made the first steps last year, but then you find out how big this club is and that nobody is ever satisfied. Well, then you have no sense of reality.’An hour before kick-off, Ten Hag’s tone had changed dramatically. Reports that he would be sacked regardless of the result, amid deafening silence from Old Trafford and Ineos, suggested his time was up. Ahead of the game, ten Hag claimed he wanted to focus on the cup rather than his own future Alejandro Garnacho scored Man United’s opener and changed the complexion of the game‘I don’t talk about my future,’ he told the BBC. ‘It’s not about me, it’s about the team and winning the Cup.’And he did win the cup, his second in two years at United, taking his team into the Europa League in the process.Here in the Wembley sunshine, the fans showered Ten Hag and his players with love after they had beaten City 2-1, avenging last season’s defeat by the same scoreline and denying the Premier League champions the Double.It feels like they are still behind him, at least, even if the owners aren’t necessarily.After a season decimated by injuries, Ten Hag will argue that this victory showed what he can do when more of his key players are available. It also had much to do with a tactical victory over Pep Guardiola. Far too often, United have left themselves wide open and paid the price. Here, Ten Hag set up his team in the equivalent of basketball’s half-court press to keep City at arm’s length.The plan was to try to snatch possession and hit their opponents on the break, and it worked a treat twice.The fact that United’s goals came from Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo — the first teenagers to score in the Cup final since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2004 — was particularly sweet for Ten Hag.‘Sometimes it comes by luck that you develop a young player, but it was a plan,’ he said afterwards. ‘We planned last summer to bring Garnacho in the team and also Mainoo.’Ten Hag spent much of the first half pacing the technical area in his dark suit and red tie, arms folded. But when Mainoo scored United’s second goal in the 39th minute, he span away and stuffed his hands in his pockets as if to contain his excitement.As City’s chances came and went in the second half — Erling Haaland hit the bar and Julian Alvarez spurned two opportunities — it began to feel as though this would be United’s day.When seven minutes of added time came to an end, Ten Hag danced on the pitch with Lisandro Martinez, just as he did after winning the Carabao Cup in his first season.Then he climbed the Wembley steps to the Royal Box to collect his medal and shake hands with the three men who will decide his fate — Ratcliffe and Joel and Avi Glazer — before rather bravely turning his back on them to join his players in lifting the FA Cup.Ratcliffe patted Ten Hag on the shoulder as he walked past, but wouldn’t comment on the manager’s future when he left the stadium shortly afterwards.Ratcliffe had a brief interaction with Ten Hag, but refused to comment on the Dutchman’s job The stunning victory helped to ensure that United’s difficult season concluded on a high United’s billionaire co-owner later issued a statement congratulating the players and staff, conspicuously refraining from naming Ten Hag in person — just as he has held back from giving the manager any public support.It felt like a miserly thing to do. Ten Hag will fly out of Manchester on holiday on Sunday with his future still up in the air.

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