Erik ten Hag’s Survival: 5 Reasons for Man United Boss’s Comeback

Erik ten Hag’s Survival: 5 Reasons for Man United Boss’s Comeback

As Erik ten Hag, the top of a crisp white shirt unbuttoned and a glass of red wine on the table, indulged in some down-time alongside wife Bianca in Ibiza last week, perhaps his mind cast itself back to a month ago when many had written him off.

When Michael Olise’s second goal, and Crystal Palace’s fourth, flew past Andre Onana, the finishing touches looked to be being added to Ten Hag’s Manchester United obit.

His doubters, more vocal than ever, had seen enough with four games left of the season. Ten Hag, they said, was finished. Another Manchester United boss had reached their expiration date inside two years.

And yet, after an unexpected FA Cup final success over bitter rivals Manchester City – which saw them go into it as 8/1 underdogs – Ten Hag has miraculously clung onto his job.

Mail Sport looks at the five reasons why the Dutchman has avoided the sack.

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag was able to indulge in a glass of wine while on holiday

Sir Jim Ratcliffe (left) and Ineos have determined the Dutchman will stay on as United manager

Sir Jim Ratcliffe (left) and Ineos have determined the Dutchman will stay on as United manager

1. DEVELOPMENT OF YOUTH 

The most watertight case for the defence when it came to Ten Hag rested with his development of United’s young players.

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United is a club that prides itself on home-grown talents and the Dutchman, albeit he has been forced to turn to the youth ranks due to injury problems (more on that shortly), has shown a trust and a willingness to give academy stars a chance.

He has helped elevate Kobbie Mainoo into a player that is pushing to start for England during the Euros this summer, while Alejandro Garnacho has taken a big step forward as one of the first names on the team-sheet.

Ten Hag kept faith in Hojlund during difficult moments, while he has also helped bring Willy Kambwala, Ethan Wheatley, Harry Amass, Toby Collyer, Louis Jackson and Habeeb Ogunneye through into the first team group.

‘We have many good, young players,’ Ten Hag said at the beginning of March.

‘We have to develop their skillset, being in the team feeling and building a stronger connection with Manchester United, a real winning attitude. That is a base to winning trophies.’

With greater restrictions placed upon spending and Ineos keen to have a more home-grown feel to the squad moving forward, few candidates could provide a better showcase for youth development than Ten Hag.

Kobbie Mainoo was a shining light for United having made his breakthrough into the first team

Kobbie Mainoo was a shining light for United having made his breakthrough into the first team

Man United recognise the work Ten Hag has done with Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho (right)

Man United recognise the work Ten Hag has done with Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho (right)

2. INJURY NIGHTMARE

After victory over Brighton on the last day of the Premier League season Ten Hag laughed with Mail Sport when he was asked to reflect on his injury crisis in defence.

‘A nightmare’ was how he chose to describe it. No team in the Premier League suffered more injuries last season and Ten Hag was often left without three of his four first choice defenders.

Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia both missed extended periods of the season – the entire campaign in the case of Malacia – which left United without a recognised left back.

Lisandro Martinez, a Ten Hag signing and United’s best centre back, was sidelined for most of the season, while Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Jonny Evans all found themselves in and out with injury problems.

Lisandro Martinez battled more injury woe during the season and sorely missed in defence

Lisandro Martinez battled more injury woe during the season and sorely missed in defence

There were more than 60 cases of injury for Ten Hag to contend with, something he claimed he had never previously experienced in his entire managerial career.

During the extensive review Ineos accepted that it was unprecedented just how extreme the injury problems were and with a plan in place to overhaul the medical department to prevent any repeat, they are keen to see how Ten Hag gets on at full complement.

With many of his starters back in tow for the FA Cup final there was a marked difference as they beat City.

A clean bill of health could help Ten Hag start next season on a cleaner slate with his superiors.

Only last week, former Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel was entertained in Monaco by Ratcliffe

Only last week, former Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel was entertained in Monaco by Ratcliffe 

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3. SIGNINGS BACKED TO COME GOOD

Quite how much longer Ten Hag gets at United could well hinge on how well his signings perform going forward.

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New signings made for the long-term last season took, it was argued, significantly longer than expected to bed in.

Andre Onana was brought in as a new No 1 in place of David de Gea but took six months to find his feet – costing United their Champions League group stage in the process with a series of high-profile errors – while young striker Rasmus Hojlund seemed to pick up injuries just as he found a bit of rhythm.

Mason Mount arrived as Ten Hag’s No 1 target last summer and yet he missed most of the season through injury; the full benefit of those signings, it was argued, is still to come.

‘I’m convinced he will be [a key player],’ Ten Hag told Mail Sport of Mount back in March.

It's been a difficult start to life at Old Trafford for Mason Mount as he battled injury setbacks

It’s been a difficult start to life at Old Trafford for Mason Mount as he battled injury setbacks

‘He didn’t have the chance to prove this point. But he will be a very good player for Manchester United.

‘It’s been really unfortunate and disappointing for him but also for us when you have such a class player in the middle and you can’t play him. He has had injuries as we all know.

‘He didn’t have any time to come into a rhythm but I am sure that when he is fit and he will play and get into that rhythm he will contribute to a successful Manchester United I’m sure.’

With a bedding in period now behind them, Ten Hag’s hopes hinge on his transfer market swings proving hits, rather than misses.

The FA Cup feelgood factor and a surge in fan support has clearly turned Ratcliffe's head

The FA Cup feelgood factor and a surge in fan support has clearly turned Ratcliffe’s head

4. NEW STRUCTURE BACKED TO HELP

While humiliating – his bosses actively shopping for a successor – there is a sense at Old Trafford that a brand new structure, which United believe can become best in class, can help ease the workload on Ten Hag.

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Omar Berrada is arriving in mid-July as CEO; Jason Wilcox is already in position as Technical Director; a deal to bring in Dan Ashworth as Sporting Director is ongoing; United firmly believe they are on the cusp of a footballing structure that can turn their fortunes around.

It could be, too, that Ten Hag’s influence on transfers is stripped away and there may even be a shift to a ‘head coach’ title, rather than ‘manager’ – the £400million he splurged since arriving is said to have raised eyebrows with Ratcliffe and Co.

‘Constructive’ is how conversations this week between Ten Hag and Ineos are said to have been. Forthright no doubt. It will be on the Dutchman to slot into the new system that has been built around him.

With fewer responsibilities away from the pitch, Ten Hag will – bosses hope – be able to but a greater emphasis onto coaching and, as such, deliver better results.

5. UNINSPIRING ALTERNATIVES

As Ten Hag continued to bat away questions on his future as the season wore on – he reaffirmed his commitment, vowed to ‘keep fighting’ and said common sense should allow him more time – Ineos held not-so-secret talks with potential replacements.

Former United coach Kieran McKenna was an attractive option before he committed to stay at Ipswich.

Representatives of Brentford boss Thomas Frank held talks prior to the FA Cup final.

Winning the FA Cup appears to have been decisive and a new structure is set to help him

Winning the FA Cup appears to have been decisive and a new structure is set to help him

Gareth Southgate, a favourite of Sir Dave Brailsford and incoming sporting director Dan Ashworth, could not commit ahead of Euro 2024.

Even as recently as last week, Ratcliffe sat down with Thomas Tuchel in Monaco to hear his vision for United were he to get the job. The German is said to be taking a break from football and United, for now at least, wasn’t an option.

Mauricio Pochettino has his admirers at Ineos but he has been busy sorting his pay-off from Chelsea after he was axed by the London club.

An exhaustive review that, ultimately, has led to Ineos determining that of the available candidates nobody was an obvious upgrade on Ten Hag.

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