Manchester United look set to appoint Erik ten Hag as their new manager in the summer but his plan to revive the glory days at Old Trafford is going to be tough unless he is able to tackle some major issues
If Erik ten Hag has told the Manchester United hierarchy that restoring the club’s domestic and European dominance will take five years, he is pulling the wool over their eyes. It will take a lot longer than that.
When the Dutchman is finally announced as the new permanent manager, there will be the usual talk of a long-term plan. The board will say it because they have seen what stability has brought to the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, while any incoming manager will say it because he will want to buy time.
David Moyes, remember, was on a six-year project at Old Trafford, which lasted barely ten months. But Ten Hag will not only need at least five years, he will need the green light to be ruthless from the start.
None of this guff about starting with a clean slate and allowing everybody to make their case – if Ten Hag has done his own due diligence, he should already know, with the odd exception perhaps, who he wants with him and who he wants out. The problem Ten Hag will have is what problem to deal with first. Throughout the squad, the issues are spread far and wide.
David de Gea will, no doubt, be named as United’s Player of the Year at the end of the season … for the fifth time. It will be a proud moment for the Spaniard but it shouldn’t be for the club. The team has still conceded more Premier League goals than EIGHT other clubs. And what does it say of United’s contractual policy that Dean Henderson was given a bumper new deal less than two years ago?
Mind you, Eric Bailly was given a fresh, long-term contract this time last year and, while injuries cannot be helped, has started just three Premier League matches this season. And we all know what has happened to Phil Jones since he got that four-year package in 2019. Meanwhile, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Edinson Cavani and Jesse Lingard are all out of contract at the end of the season. At least they are four players that Ten Hag would surely have already had in the out-tray.
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But even amongst those he would want to keep, there have been eye-popping drops in form that will take a long, long time to reverse. Three English talents who some at United might have envisioned to be part of the club’s backbone would have been Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford. The latter looks completely lost while Wan-Bissaka would not, in anyone’s books, get in the list of the top six English right-backs. And that is being kind to the 24-year-old bought for £50million less than three years ago.
As for Maguire, he is ploughing on through a long run of club mediocrity. These guys could yet fight their way back to the sort of elite form that is a constant amongst City, Liverpool and Chelsea ranks. But it will be a long process. And then you have central midfield where the McFred combination – Fred and Scott McTominay – is simply not blue riband level. Honest sorts but neither getting anywhere near the starting eleven of the three current superpowers.
And all this is without mentioning the Cristiano Ronaldo conundrum. Quite how he can fit into Ten Hag’s plans is hard to see. Of course, Ten Hag cannot just come in and ship all and sundry out. But he has to be ruthless and has to be given time. Because on recent evidence, you suspect the worst of this current Manchester United team is yet to be seen.
Blackmore out to make history again
What a story it would be if Rachael Blackmore could win back-to-back Grand Nationals on Minella Times this Saturday.
What a triumph for female jockeys not more than a week after Bryony Frost had to see a man who was found to have bullied, threatened and abused her get his punishment almost halved. And let’s hope it is a coincidence that Frost does not seem to be getting as many rides as she has in previous years.
Mind you, despite Blackmore’s success and the remarkable feats of Hollie Doyle on the flat, race-riding remains pretty much a job for the boys. One hundred and five horses are declared to run on Aintree’s seven-race card today and only five of them will be ridden by female jockeys – two by Blackmore, one by Frost, one by Lily Pinchin in an amateur race and one by Bridget Andrews for trainer Dan Skelton, who also happens to be her brother-in-law.
In the big one tomorrow, Blackmore will be the only female rider. Blackmore is a remarkable jockey but she is not a trailblazer … because blazing a trail assumes others are given the chance to follow it.