Reporter notebook: Are Manchester United now back under Erik ten Hag? – Sky Sports - STRATEGIES TO EARN MONEY



Reporter notebook: Are Manchester United now back under Erik ten Hag? – Sky Sports

The changing face of Manchester United stretches beyond Erik ten Hag, so are they finally steering the right course?

In the expansive indoor fitness centre at Carrington, a virtual wall that spells out the session plan features three directives: ‘Dominate, intimidate, regenerate.’

The last one is interesting beyond a performance perspective when looking at United through a wide lens. Is the club in revival mode, wearing traits of a more modern operation, and shedding ties to ‘this is how it used to be done?’

In Ten Hag they possess a progressive manager, trying to impose a culture of responsibility and excellence.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United’s win against West Ham in the Premier League.

On a purely on-pitch front – structure in and out of possession, a clear and well-communicated tactical blueprint, greater balance in the team, a collective approach – the early improvements are indisputable.

“I have the feeling United are coming back, finally United is coming back,” as Pep Guardiola has put it. “I like what I see from United right now.”

At the crescendo of the almighty tussle between Manchester City and Liverpool, where the tiniest margins – one point, 11mm, disputed offsides – counted, both clubs might have wondered how long it would be until United became a consideration to them again.

Even at the highest curve under Ole Gunner Solskjaer, there was no concern. United still didn’t have a concrete playing identity, relying on individualism and moments to smooth their best periods.

In Ten Hag they possess a progressive manager, trying to impose a culture of responsibility and excellence.

Melissa Reddy

There was no sustainability, and a belief Solskjaer was too soft a touch, offering the dressing room too much freedom, for there to be a real remedying of the standards at United.

Now, under Ten Hag, there is apprehension from rivals. The Dutchman is a proper coach, a certified developer of players, and a man who has illustrated his authority quickly and without drama.

His handling of the Cristiano Ronaldo situation is the most high-profile example of that final element, but there have been many little and large showcases.

As Bruno Fernandes told Sky Sports News: “He explains really well what he wants so anyone not doing what he demands… they know they will be punished.

Erik ten Hag
Image: Erik ten Hag joined Man Utd from Ajax last summer

“Discipline on the pitch comes from discipline off the pitch. Nobody can get away with anything with him.”

The manager is aware of the squad’s media commitments, and at Stamford Bridge recently he could be seen engaging a member of the communications team over what was happening in the mixed zone.

No player stopped at Chelsea, sidestepping questions about behaviour and Ronaldo’s punishment for refusing to be subbed on against Tottenham and exiting Old Trafford early.

As one technical staffer told this reporter in July: “There can be no doubt, this is Erik ten Hag’s club.”

He commissioned a new audio-visual room at Carrington, complete with touch screens, to maximise team meetings and analysis feedback.

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Manchester United defender Diogo Dalot claims that the team are focused on keeping clean sheets under Erik ten Hag and suggests the side are showing signs of progress in recent weeks.

His requirements were as specific as requesting tiered levels of seating so each person in the AV space could have an unobstructed view of the monitors.

But beyond Ten Hag, what is the state of play at United?

Recruitment has long been a department of staggering waste since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, with the club breaking the £1bn spending mark by summer 2020 only to assemble a muddled group featuring the fingerprints of four different managers.

One of John Murtough’s core tasks as director of football is to overhaul the mechanisms of how United approach transfers – both ins and outs – as well as who is involved in the process.

As part of a wide-ranging restructure, chief scout Jim Lawlor and Marcel Bout, the head of global scouting, departed in April.

Matt Judge, the director of football negotiations who Louis van Gaal once described as Ed Woodward’s right hand, also exited.

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Despite winning 1-0 at Real Sociedad, Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag would like more forward options after finishing second in their Europa League group.

The plan was to streamline the approach and place greater focus on analytics-driven results and future planning.

A year ago, Dominic Jordan was appointed as United’s first director of data science, and he works with strategy executive Chris Chiang in helping the club make smarter decisions across the board, notably in player trading.

Steve Brown, head of recruitment operations, is tasked with fusing their findings with global scouting reports to assess what the squad needs in the immediate-to-long term.

This summer, Ten Hag was at the forefront of business in the market. Lisandro Martinez and Antony, for a combined fee of £137 million, were brought in from his former club Ajax.

Christian Eriksen is an alumni of the Dutch giants and trained with them in a bid to build up his fitness at the turn of the year.

The manager had wanted to sign Tyrell Malacia from Feyenoord for Ajax. With the exception of the pedigreed Casemiro, Ten Hag had first-hand knowledge about, and heavily pushed for, those incomings.

United insist that all the players bar Malacia featured on their shortlist for each position and Ten Hag’s character assessments only helped to solidify their thinking.

Image: Ten Hag endured a tough start to life at Old Trafford, before a recent upturn in results

Martinez’s numbers were superior to the four other left-sided centre backs looked at, for example, and Ten Hag’s assertion that he would “fight like an animal” for United while also drastically improving how they build up in possession sealed the deal.

Antony was one of two right forwards seriously under consideration, and while the club concede they paid more than they originally wanted to for the Brazil international, they flagged there is going to be stacked demand at top clubs to fill that position in the next two seasons.

United’s interest in Eriksen long pre-dates Ten Hag and Casemiro’s camp were adamant the midfielder wanted to turn out at Old Trafford.

While some targets that due diligence was done on focused on money, the serial winner with Real Madrid was excited by the challenge of restoring the club to where they belong.

To be fair to United, it is possible to imagine all of these recruits turning out under their other managerial candidate, Mauricio Pochettino; Martinez, Casemiro and Eriksen especially so.

They have made a mammoth difference to the team with and without the ball. On the subject of falling for romance rather than the reality of what Ronaldo’s return would mean for the path forward they’re trying to cultivate, United point to his legacy in the game, at the club, and his goals last season.

The lack of takers this summer for one of the greatest footballers ever is a sign of how the elite clubs frame the legend. As Bayern Munich summarised: a fantastic player with a fantastic past.

There will be less short-term and snap fixes for United moving forward. The aim is also to significantly enhance the fees they receive for outgoings, an area the club are stunted in by all their rivals.

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Paul Merson believes Cristiano Ronaldo’s actions during Manchester United’s game against Tottenham Hotspur has made Erik ten Hag’s job much easier.

The academy and women’s team, under the guidance of Murtough and now overseen by his deputy, Andy O’Boyle, have benefitted from significant investment, fresh operational structure and general improvements.

United are the current FA Youth Cup and defending WSL champions. Alejandro Garnacho scored his first senior goal for United on Thursday, but the club have been trying to find edges in the post-Brexit world which prevents the stocking up of talented foreigners under 18.

The women’s team are set for expansive new facilities as part of a wide-ranging revamp of Carrington, headed by Mags Mernagh.

She led on Leicester City’s £130m training ground uplift and is in charge of immediate progress to the infrastructure as well as what Murtough terms “the masterplan.”

The planning permission applied for at Carrington includes offices, a gym, catering area, and an overspill car park.

United have been engaging architectural design firm Populous and business planning consultant Legends on feasibility work to improve Old Trafford, with major improvements to the stadium likely to be two years away still.

Collette Roche, the club’s chief operating officer, told the latest fans’ forum: “Findings so far show that it is possible to redevelop Old Trafford to take it to the next level, but there are significant challenges in terms of complexity, timing, cost, and disruption, not least because of the inherent constraints around our site, including proximity to the adjacent railway line, canal, public access routes and housing. In short, it’s possible but not easy.

“The timings are in line with industry best practice – as you will appreciate, we need to take time to get it right, and it is not a quick fix.

“In relation to the number of extra seats and cost, it is too early to give any definitive details in this regard, but we are working through various options.”

In a more general view of operational practices, chief executive officer Richard Arnold and Murtough are known to “operate without ego and are committed to getting the best in class from every field” to work at United.

Erik ten Hag at Manchester United
Image: Manchester United are hoping to expand Old Trafford’s capacity

This is in contrast to some testimony given about Woodward who, it is claimed by some, didn’t like perceived threats to his power.

Speaking to staff across departments, the environment around the club has undoubtedly shifted to one which is more open, inclusive, enjoyable and collaborative.

It is hard to skirt over the fact that whatever upgrades happen at United, on the pitch or beyond, the club are hurt by the Glazer’s £790m takeover in the summer of 2005 via leveraged buyout.

Before their ownership, United had been virtually debt free since 1931. Immediately after the takeover, an initial debt of around £550m was loaded on to the club.

The total figure paid in interest alone since the takeover currently stands at approximately £743m.

United are the sole Premier League club to pay dividends to their shareholders, the bulk to the Glazers themselves, which averages around £22m per season.

The latest quarterly financial report up until March 2022 has the net debt – gross debt less cash reserves – at £495.7m.

United will have to thrive despite these unwelcome disadvantages. Guardiola has been expecting them, so have we all. It’s up to United now to prove that they are really, finally back – seriously and sustainably so.

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