After Ferguson: Man United Dressing Room Becomes Toxic – Players Dislike Van Gaal, Mourinho Clashes with Pogba, and Solskjaer’s Status Comes into Question – Will Ten Hag Face the Same Fate?

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Sir Alex Ferguson understood the vital importance of controlling the dressing room.

The legendary boss told Harvard Business Review: ‘If the day came that the manager of Manchester United was controlled by the players – in other words, if the players decided how the training should be, what days they should have off, what the discipline should be, and what the tactics should be – then Manchester United would not be the Manchester United we know.’

In the same interview, Ferguson hinted that clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City had changed managers so many times the players had total control of the dressing room.

‘It creates power for the players – that is very dangerous. If the coach has no control, he will not last,’ he added.

When Ferguson spoke in 2013, the year of his retirement, he had no idea how prescient those words would be.

Sir Alex Ferguson signed off with another Premier League title in 2013 but the decade since has been a rocky road for Manchester United and their managers 

Now Erik ten Hag is feeling the heat amid reports he has lost the trust of half his players

Now Erik ten Hag is feeling the heat amid reports he has lost the trust of half his players 

United's results and performances have been well below standards so far this season

United’s results and performances have been well below standards so far this season

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This was the man who once demanded the Glazers double his salary to preserve his dressing room authority after Wayne Rooney was put on £250,000-a-week.

And while Fergie did rule with an iron rod, he also delegated to trusted senior players to ensure the squad self-policed itself.

A decade on and United have become the Chelsea or City that Ferguson gently ridiculed.

Since he went after nearly 27 years in the job, they’ve got through David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Now, the odds on Erik ten Hag joining them on the Old Trafford scrapheap are shortening with every defeat and each risible performance.

‘Toxic’ has become a byword for the atmosphere behind the scenes at United and reports claim Ten Hag has lost the support of half his squad because of his management style.

All the gains made by Ten Hag’s ruthless approach last season are fast unravelling. United haven’t convinced all season and stand on the brink of a European exit.

David Moyes really was on a hiding to nothing when he succeeded Ferguson in 2013

David Moyes really was on a hiding to nothing when he succeeded Ferguson in 2013

United's aura seemed to evaporate the moment Ferguson stepped out of the building

United’s aura seemed to evaporate the moment Ferguson stepped out of the building 

They are barely scraping Premier League wins against opponents from the lower reaches, let alone looking capable of going toe-to-toe with the big guns.

It’s frankly astonishing they’re only five points off the top four having lost six of their 14 games.

Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Newcastle – their 10th of the season overall and one in which they were completely outplayed – has opened Pandora’s box again.

Half the dressing room has apparently been lost, players are unhappy with the style of play and – in what is an ongoing theme at United – are unhappy at being made to run so much in training.

There are grumbles about Ten Hag’s man management and a general sense of disillusionment.

It’s remarkable how quickly things have turned sour for the Dutch coach after a strong first season but we’ve been here before in the past decade.

Player power has seized control of the Old Trafford dressing room post-Ferguson and unless there’s a dramatic turnaround, it usually only leads to one thing.

David Moyes, the ‘Chosen One’ who replaced Ferguson in 2013, really was on a hiding to nothing and ultimately saw out just 10 months of a six-year contract.

Louis van Gaal's hard-headed approach quickly lost the support of United's players in 2014

Louis van Gaal’s hard-headed approach quickly lost the support of United’s players in 2014

Van Gaal’s tactics and instructions to not shoot first time didn’t go down well with the players

He was let down by failures of recruitment and the fact United’s aura seemed to evaporate the moment Ferguson stepped out of the building.

Moyes didn’t help himself with fatalistic comments such as claiming Liverpool were ‘favourites’ when they visited Old Trafford and that City were at ‘the level we are aspiring to.’

Let’s not forget the ‘we’, United, had won five of the last seven Premier League titles.

Moyes didn’t really have enough time to lose the dressing room as bad results quickly put paid to his tenure. But things were truly ‘toxic’ under Van Gaal.

One of the most uncompromising managers in the game, with absolute pig-headed faith in his methods, Van Gaal saw no reason to change when at United.

Really it’s remarkable he lasted two seasons and signed off by winning the FA Cup, given the dressing room had long since been lost.

Van Gaal ran his players ragged with double or triple training session during pre-season in 2014, ensuring an injury pile-up, widespread fatigue and United’s worst start to a season in 25 years.

Van Gaal's relentless training methods left the players exhausted before the 2014-15 season

Van Gaal’s relentless training methods left the players exhausted before the 2014-15 season

The Dutchman hardly endeared himself with his ruthless approach to flagging up mistakes

The Dutchman hardly endeared himself with his ruthless approach to flagging up mistakes

He scrapped the usual Monday day off following a Sunday fixture, instead forcing his players to re-watch the game on video as he brutally called out their mistakes.

The tough love only served to shatter confidence and it led to senior players Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick asking Van Gaal to go a little easier.

His response to this was to send the video clips on e-mail, even fitting a tracker which ensured the players opened the messages.

United did get some notable results but their style of football was a major turn-off, with too much sideways passing, while instinctive players such as Rooney were told not to shoot first-time.

Bad signings such as Memphis Depay and Angel Di Maria further ruined harmony and the relationship was beyond repair by the mid-point of Van Gaal’s second season.

This left him a lame-duck manager with the respect of his players long since lost. If he even had their respect in the first place.

The Mourinho era started with trophy success and a lifting of the Van Gaal ‘straitjacket’ but it didn’t take Nostradamus to predict that everything would eventually blow up.

Jose Mourinho clashed with Paul Pogba and others during his rollercoaster time in charge

Jose Mourinho clashed with Paul Pogba and others during his rollercoaster time in charge

Mourinho seemed to make a scapegoat of Luke Shaw, shattering the defender's confidence

Mourinho seemed to make a scapegoat of Luke Shaw, shattering the defender’s confidence

Mourinho’s approach was to call players out when they underperformed with Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Eric Bailly and others on the receiving end of his sharp tongue.

By the time of Mourinho’s third season, a toxic atmosphere pervaded the club from top to bottom with the players frightened to do anything wrong in case they got a verbal blast.

He famously clashed with £89million club record signing Paul Pogba with a frosty exchange on the training ground in September 2018 captured by TV cameras.

Mourinho’s problem was that Pogba had influence in the dressing room and it was soon poisoned against the manager.

Player power prevailed when Mourinho was sacked that December after certain players clearly stopped trying for their manager.

It spoke volumes when Shaw drove into training and gave a thumbs up to photographers the day Mourinho was axed. 

Alexis Sanchez posted an Instagram Story driving into Carrington soundtracked to Hans Zimmer’s song from Gladiator, ‘Now We Are Free’.

Bad results and a toxic dressing room put paid to Mourinho's United tenure in December 2018

Bad results and a toxic dressing room put paid to Mourinho’s United tenure in December 2018

Club legend Solskjaer restored smiles to faces with what was described as a ‘cultural reset’ and a superb sequence of results won him the post full-time.

But the goodwill his status at Old Trafford bought quickly corroded away when results turned bad with 2019-20 a real season of two halves for United.

Matters improved and the feel-good factor was restored until the beginning of 2021-22 when the decision to sign Cristiano Ronaldo forced Solskjaer to rip up all his best-laid plans.

The lack of a clearly defined style troubled several players, likewise Solskjaer’s loyalty to under-performing players when results went downhill.

Bailly, for instance, was upset that Harry Maguire continued to get the nod even when not fully fit. The likes of Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic were unhappy with their treatment.

When Ronaldo lost his faith in the manager, the writing was on the wall given his all-powerful influence. While publicly insisting he backed Solskjaer, his agent Jorge Mendes reportedly caused trouble in the background.

Solskjaer’s handling of David de Gea was another issue even if the introduction of healthy competition in the shape of Dean Henderson was surely a good thing.

Maguire’s promotion to captain also rubbed some players up the wrong way.

By the time Solskjaer was given the boot after a shocking 4-1 loss at Watford in November 2021, he’d long since reached the point of no return.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did restore the feel-good factor before everything unravelled for him

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did restore the feel-good factor before everything unravelled for him

The return of Cristiano Ronaldo (left) forced Solskjaer to redraw all his plans for the season

The return of Cristiano Ronaldo (left) forced Solskjaer to redraw all his plans for the season

Interim boss Ralf Rangnick can’t be said to have lost the respect of the dressing room because he never really had it.

So now we find Ten Hag on the same shaky ground as so many of his predecessors.

He has tried to restore standards and was ruthless in ousting Ronaldo 12 months ago. Maguire, Jadon Sancho and De Gea have also discovered how it feels to get Ten Hag’s cold shoulder.

But such calls have to be backed up with good results and progress. At the moment, United are achieving neither.

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