Manchester United’s search for their next permanent manager has made progress, with Erik ten Hag emerging as the club’s preferred candidate.
The Manchester Evening News understands the Ajax boss now leads the way for United, with the club still looking to make an appointment before the end of the season. United have not yet made a final decision, although recent developments look to have turned the tide in Ten Hag’s favour.
The 52-year-old remains one of the frontrunners along with Mauricio Pochettino, who is expected to be sacked by Paris Saint-Germain. United have also not ruled out an approach for Thomas Tuchel amid the ongoing uncertainty at Chelsea.
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It’s Ten Hag though that looks to be leading the way in the club’s search. United have been impressed by his ability to assemble two successful teams during his time with Ajax.
Elsewhere, there have been updates on Marcus Rashford this week, with Barcelona interested as the forward considers his future. Meanwhile, plans for the redevelopment of Old Trafford have come to light.
On Thursday, MEN Sport’s chief United writer, Samuel Luckhurst, hosted a Q&A as he answered some of the burning questions on fans’ minds. As you can imagine, the managerial situation was a hot topic.
Q: How much of an impact has the CL exit had (if any) on the potential replacements? Both Ten Hag and Pochettino went out in the round of 16. Does it have any sway on the decision process?
SL: Well, Ajax weren’t expected to win it but PSG obviously expected to go a lot farther. The likelihood of PSG ditching Pochettino at the end of the season would possibly make him more attainable than Ten Hag, even though he wouldn’t be that difficult to prise from Ajax.
Pochettino is fortunate PSG were bottle jobs long before he turned up. He got them to the semi-finals last season. Ten Hag’s Champions League record, bar the anomalous 2018-19 run, is bad and another reason why I wouldn’t go for him, if I was United.
Q: Why are we so gaga over Ten Hag while Ajax got knocked out of the Champions League too? He comes with an experience of managing an average team in a very average league.
SL: He would not be my personal choice.
Ten Hag is operating in an environment that is so far removed from United, had an anomalous season in the Champions League when Ajax got to the semi-finals (they went out of the group stage in the next two seasons and then in the lasst 16 to Benfica on Tuesday) and the two teams he’s assembled have been with Premier League rejects. That highlights the standard he’s operating at in the Netherlands.
I genuinely think it’s too big a leap, especially when Ten Hag would be going to the most scrutinised sporting institution on the planet who need a(nother) major rebuild in a league with Klopp and Guardiola.
I would argue Ten Hag is more suited to City as he would inherit a stable set-up and structure. Barcelona are a major influence on City and Barcelona were, of course, influenced by Ajax’s greatest in Johan Cruyff.
Q: Who is your preferred candidate to become the next Manchester United manager?
SL: Unfortunately, he’s unattainable in the summer: Luis Enrique. And United cannot start next season with an interim in charge. It wouldn’t be credible. I’d sympathise with them if they hadn’t have given Solskjaer a three-year contract in July.
Q: With the large break now before the next game, do you think the possibility exists that the club may accelerate the managerial appointment of Ten Hag, possibly even before the next game with Leicester?
SL: I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility there is a Guardiola-style announcement before the end of the season. United have a good relationship with Ajax through Van der Sar and that was apparent when Van de Beek joined the club 18 months ago with the farewell letter in the MEN etc.
The fans certainly need some positivity but, from my experience, United do not always get how coverage of the club works outside their bubble. They have umpteen chances to be positively proactive but often decline the chance.
Q: My question is do you think the club is ready for the task ahead this summer? Are the club prepared to invest in say 4/5 players. Along with that is Rangnick still expected to have a significant impact on recruitment as I’m worried that they will ignore his advice?
SL: That’s a really good question. At this point, no. They don’t have a manager and they don’t know what European competition they will be in next season. Arsenal gave United a bit of hope last night, especially as their other games in hand are Tottenham away and Chelsea away. It would be a surreal end to the season if United somehow qualified for the Champions League, a competition they are not worthy of these days.
United won’t admit it, but five players are leaving as their contracts are expiring. United have highlighted they are in a position to sell players, too, so there will have to be some sales and there are enough wantaways in the squad to jettison. But the futures of some of those players hinge on who the next manager is.
United have got to be decisive. Say Ten Hag or Pochettino come in and want to use Martial. There has to be a guarantee he has a key role because he’s 26, out of contract in two years and had two good seasons in seven. He is a sellable asset. And just consider his quote to English journalists this week: “When he (Ralf Rangnick) arrived, my objective was to leave.” He’s got some brass neck on him.
If Rangnick did not have significant input then he would be redundant. There is an acceptance he is more experienced and has more contacts. If United end up in the Europa League, Rangnick could be even more important as he is skilled at recruiting lower-level players and United are not going to be able to attract certain eminent names if there is no Champions League football to offer.
Q: How much control do you actually see the prospective new manager and Rangnick having next season? Do you think they’ll get free reign over who’s to be bought/sold or do you think we will see marketable/high value players who don’t fit the system blocked from being moved on?
SL: The manager has a veto on a target and that is unlikely to be changed. I would imagine Rangnick could have final say from the recruitment side, rather than Mick Court, but it’s difficult to say when Rangnick is still the coach.
Time will tell if United have learnt from 2018, when they defied Mourinho and kept Martial (even though Martial wanted out). As stated earlier, the player-power era needs to end once and for all. Who cares if Martial tears it up in La Liga for a club under a fraction of United’s scrutiny.
Q: Some interesting stories around the stadium redevelopment this week. I just can’t see the glazers spending the money required to modernize the stadium, Carrington and squad considering the Glazers have invested £0 up until now in the infrastructure – can you?
SL: No, I can’t. And if they do, it would be over an inordinate period of time.
I remember someone at the club taking umbrage with my tweet about the waterfall on the Stretford End roof just prior to the April 2019 derby. They suggested supporters couldn’t have it both ways, ie. investment in the squad and a renovated stadium. I replied that they weren’t getting either!
Obviously, the Super League has forced Joel Glazer’s hand, but he is still in exile from Old Trafford and there has not been a significant change at the club.
Q: Can you please tell us what’s going on with Marcus Rashford, in your opinion? We’ve gone from him being beloved by both fans and media to…this.
SL: His confidence is low and not starting at City was a new low, hence the story I and other colleagues reported the following morning.
As Rashford said, there are two sides to every story and he might have got some unpleasant verbals in the seconds before that recording started on Tuesday night. He lost his cool and acknowledged that was the case. I completely understand fans’ frustrations with him and also take the point he made. It’s got to a point where he is struggling to ignore the criticism in settings where he would usually just walk on.
He does take note of the criticism, though. I was recently told of something I wrote/said about him after a game at the start of the 2019-20 season at Southampton. I can just about remember it because I’ve got a freakish memory, but I was told that Rashford took umbrage with it when it was pretty innocuous and, most importantly, also reflected the views of the majority of matchgoers at the time. Five weeks later, he was dropped by Southgate because his form hadn’t improved enough at club level.
It is not Rashford’s fault he appeals to certain clubs. He’s only 24, has a high ceiling and showed a couple of seasons ago – and even in the first few months of last season – how talismanic he can be.
Ultimately, I suspect United will tie him down on a new contract and he’ll play his peak years at the club as, deep down, he doesn’t want to leave. United have been played a few times by players seeking a new contract and nothing has seriously changed at hierarchical level.
But if a headstrong coach has done their due diligence before coming in then the proactive call would be to leave the door open if Rashford really does want to go. United have lost their authority these last three-and-a-half years and the player-power era needs to end for good.
Q: What are your thoughts on the future for Harry Maguire after the sarcastic cheers when he went off on Tuesday?
SL: He cannot be captain next season. If he was stripped of it then who’s to say how he would feel about his position at the club.
But Maguire is tied to United until 2026, if you include the plus-one option on his contract. It would be drastic to sell him and I’m not sure he is even sellable, given it was less than three years ago he moved for £80m, isn’t 30 and was the best defender at the Euros. And then there’s the prohibitve length on his contract and the other centre-backs who need shifting ahead of him (Bailly and Jones).
Q: Where is Paul Pogba going to?
SL: I will quote Max Minghella’s character in The Social Network when asked who the movie star was at Harvard: “Does it matter?” “No.”
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Pogba will get a good move. Personally think Juve would suit him best and they are probably the favourites (and no, not just because they wished him a happy birthday).