Can Erik ten Hag Undo The Mess That Is Manchester United?

Can Erik ten Hag Undo The Mess That Is Manchester United?

Manchester United are one of the most significant institutions in the history of sports. 20 League Titles, 12 FA Cups, and 3 Champions Leagues trophies, among other domestic trophies, have made them one of the most successful clubs in the history of football.

They’re a 4.2 billion dollar organization with fans that crave the glory of the years gone by. That said, the club has been in free fall for years. Since the mercurial Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, the club have won just 3 trophies.

A multitude of managers have all been given a shot at bringing back the glory days but have failed. Last season was arguably the lowest point in the club’s recent history. As enjoyable as chalk on a blackboard with a couple of pleasant moments.

What Went Wrong For United?

The biggest problem for Manchester United and why the problems run so much deeper than the players and manager is their ownership.

The Glazers have been reviled ever since their takeover of United in 2005, taking more than £ 1 billion out of the club in dividends. With their leveraged takeover, the club plunged United into debt, with the latest financial figures showing the debt now at £495 million.

That being said, the Glazers have invested a lot into the squad splurging more than £1b spent on players since 2013.

According to figures released by Sky Sports as of February 2022, Man United have spent £1.3b on transfers, recouping £395m with a net spend of £935m since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

During Ferguson’s reign at the club which lasted 26 years, the Scotsman spent £546.5m, recouping £320m, with a net spend of £226.5m.

Of course, player transfer fees and contract values have increased considerably over the years, however, a net spend of over four times(4x) that of Ferguson’s 26-year reign all in the past 9 years just shows how poorly the club have fared in the transfer market.

The lack of footballing acumen and underwhelming performances of the players they recruited is painfully clear looking at some of the club’s signings that have flopped.

Morgan Schneiderlin (€35m), Alexis Sanchez (€34m), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (€42m), Memphis Depay(€34m), Bastian Schweinsteiger (€9m), Angel Di Maria (€75m), Falcao and, lately, Aaron Wan-Bissaka (€55m), Fred (€59m), Eric Bailly (€38m), Paul Pogba (€105m), Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial (€60m), and captain Harry Maguire (€87m) are all examples of United’s failed recruitment policy.

Manchester United find themselves overpaying to sign players, handing out lucrative contracts to fringe players and are never able to sell well. Out of the players mentioned above who are not at the club, United sold each one of them for a loss. Even now, they have just lost Pogba, Lingard, Mata, Matic, and Cavani, all of whom ran down their contracts.

Manchester United have gone through David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the space of 9 years. Each of these managers was able to spend big in a couple of windows but was never given enough time to build the squad they wanted. This has led to a situation where the manager coming into the club is saddled with players on big contracts from a previous regime who can’t be moved on.

Ed Woodward has long been a lightning rod for United fans’ angst and has been scapegoated for the lack of success since his arrival in 2013.

Delving into Manchester United’s stats since the start of the Premier League, the bottom 7 seasons have come in the last 9 years.

Between 1991 and 2013, United never finished below 3rd, looking at the state of the club now, it shows what an admirable job Sir Alex Ferguson did there.

Since 2013, United also seem to have lost their clinical edge in front of goal as well. In spite of players like Lukaku, Falcao, Zlatan, Rashford, Martial, Cavani, and Ronaldo, there is a clear decline in their goalscoring stats and the blistering starts to games the Red Devils used to have.

It’s no surprise that the club are in this mess; the signs have been showing for seasons. It’s a culmination of years of poor management by the hierarchy behind the scenes, poor recruitment, and a host of managers who haven’t delivered, which has left the club with a mish-mash of players and a broken dressing room.

The signing of Erik ten Hag may be the first domino in Manchester United’s ascent to the summit of English football

Erik ten Hag will take the United job after years of success with Ajax. 3 League titles, 2 cups, and the shield in his 5-year stint at the club is pretty impressive. The first time the world noticed him was when his Ajax team battered Real Madrid and were seconds away from reaching the UCL final. Other European giants signed many stars from that team, and ten Hag built another brilliant team from the ashes.

He has an excellent track record of working with young players, and the multitude of player sales will allow him to mold the squad the way he wants. He had worked as Pep Guardiola’s assistant during his stint at Bayern Munich, and the way he likes to play football is a lot akin to the Guardiolista philosophy. Ten Hag created a ball-dominant, exciting, attacking team at Ajax, and he’ll need to do that at United as well.

Manchester United have been linked to a host of players, but the big one is perhaps Frenkie de Jong. The Dutch midfielder had a very successful spell under Ten Hag at Ajax before his departure to Barcelona. Frenkie has not delivered on his potential but is a crucial member of the Barca midfield.

Ten Hag is the one pushing for this player’s signature to kick off his spell at the club. Frenkie is a very versatile player. He played as a defensive midfielder at Ajax, then a box-to-box midfielder at Barca, and now has added a few goals to his game as well. He’d be a great partner for Bruno in the middle of the park.

It hasn’t been plain sailing for ten Hag in his first few days at the club. He wanted to bring Jurien Timber with him from Ajax, but the deal fell through as Dutch boss van Gaal convinced the player against the transfer. Ten Hag has a massive job on his hands; undoing the mess that the club is currently in won’t be easy.

A big issue that ten Hag will have to address soon is the lack of creativity in the middle of the park. From this graph below, we can see that Man City and Liverpool are able to create passing triangles all over the field, especially higher up the pitch, where the midfield links with the forward line. However, at United, their midfield is unable to link up effectively enough with the forward players.

Source: The Athletic

Another key area of concern for the new boss is the defence. The backline just seems unable to prevent leaking goals and is just not good enough. The United defence needs bolstering, and they need to stop conceding as many goals as they have been. Better coaching or better players are absolutely necessary for United if ten Hag has any chance of turning things around.

Man United xGA since Sir Alex Ferguson(Credit: Twitter Infogol)

He has time to make the signings he wants, and it has been reported that he has a huge say in who will be signed. The fat has been trimmed from this squad, and the players left are high quality. The squad still has Ronaldo, Sancho, Bruno, Varane, and de Gea, which could be the spine of ten Hag’s squad.

When he was asked about his style of play in his opening presser, ten Hag said, “Maybe you have seen Ajax? And I like that. But it is always players who dictate the way of play. I have the ideal, I will line up my best team, and I will line up my players like that to get the best out of them. That they can go to the maximum, that they feel comfortable in the role and in the end it’s about getting the success together.”

It’s a new start and a new project under Ten Hag, and he seems like the ideal manager to guide the club and play the exciting football that the fans want. However, he’s coming from the Eredivise which is nowhere near the level of the Premier League, and whether he will be able to deliver trophies in England and success in the Premier League week in and week out remains to be seen.

When asked about how long it will take for United to challenge for the Premier League title again, ten Hag said, “I don’t think about that in this moment. What we are thinking about is that this is a project, which I know always takes time, but I know that in this club – and I have experience with other clubs like Ajax and Bayern Munich – we want to win. We want to win every game, so we go from game to game and then we will see.”

Manchester United fans will be heading into this season with nervous excitement, and cautious optimism after being burnt by the dreams the club sold them last season. It’s a new season and era, and ten Hag has time to assemble his squad and get the club moving in the right direction.

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