IAN LADYMAN: Ten Hag misses the mark in criticizing Marcus Rashford

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Sir Alex Ferguson was a hard man when it came to discipline but that doesn’t mean he was always fair. No, the great manager of Manchester United was not always fair.

Take Ryan Giggs and David Beckham, for example. They were far from wild as they developed into senior players. They had their moments but didn’t give Ferguson regular cause to worry or wonder.

Still, though, they would get it from their manager and often in plain sight of everybody else.

‘He regularly picked me and Becks out for a rollicking,’ Giggs told me five years ago.

‘We always got it more often than the rest. One pre-season in America he went for me in front of everyone. I was fuming but he told me it was a ploy because the younger players would learn that if he could have a go at me then nobody was safe. He knew what he was doing.’

Sir Alex Ferguson regularly criticised stars such as Ryan Giggs to set a dressing room standard

Erik ten Hag is seeking to instill a level of discipline and personal responsibility at Man United

Erik ten Hag is seeking to instill a level of discipline and personal responsibility at Man United

Mail Sport's Ian Ladyman believes Ten Hag was right in his handling of Marcus Rashford

Mail Sport’s Ian Ladyman believes Ten Hag was right in his handling of Marcus Rashford

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Football has changed a lot even since Ferguson turned it in almost eleven years ago but some things remain the same and the need for discipline and personal responsibility is one of them.

If a manager allows players to lose sight of the line that should never be crossed then he’s in trouble. If a manager is to have the control that he needs then a squad of footballers must bend to this whim, rather than the other way round.

Fair, reasonable or otherwise, it’s about power and who holds it. At the modern United, Erik ten Hag is clinging on. It’s results that have undermined him in his second season at the club. If the new United part-owner Jim Ratcliffe decides to move him on at the season’s end then that will be the driver.

United are three unbeaten. Newport, Wolves, West Ham. Not the biggest of vanquished names, granted, and Sunday at Aston Villa may tell us more about whether Ten Hag’s team are actually turning a corner this time or merely continuing to travel in circles.

However, preceding those three wins was a triumph of significance, a triumph of discipline and control with Marcus Rashford at the centre of it.

Speaking on the ‘Stick to Football’ podcast recently, former United captain Roy Keane said Rashford was an ‘easy target’ for criticism when the opposite is actually true. Rashford is not an easy target, whether you are a supporter, a journalist or indeed his manager.

Because of Rashford’s standing at Old Trafford and because he is a youth academy product and because of the work he did on behalf of schoolchildren during the pandemic, Rashford is actually quite a tricky person to single out for criticism. There will always be pushback, always those ready to accuse you of an ulterior motive. In other words, if you come for Rashford then you had better be sure and you had better not miss.

Ten Hag was sure and nor did he miss. He became aware of Rashford’s drinking sessions in Belfast two weeks ago and called him out on it, both in public and in private. Rashford was left behind as United won in the FA Cup at Newport and a fine of two weeks wages soon followed.

Ten Hag called Rashford out both in public and private for his drinking sessions in Belfast

Ten Hag called Rashford out both in public and private for his drinking sessions in Belfast

Rashford returned and scored against Wolves after being left out against Newport County

Rashford returned and scored against Wolves after being left out against Newport County

Many people did not like all of this. They viewed it as another example of Ten Hag being over-zealous with criticism of his players. They suggested he should have kept the business in-house and under cover, despite the fact five pages of explosive and detailed coverage in the Sun newspaper had made all that rather impossible.

So, yes, Ten Hag took some stick, just as he did for calling out Jadon Sancho earlier in the season. But then something happened. Ten Hag put Rashford back in his team when few people expected it for the Wolves game and the 26-year-old scored after three minutes.

United won 4-3 that night and then, last weekend, Rashford played 90 minutes as his team contributed perhaps their most complete performance of the season to win 3-0 against West Ham.

It seems, then, that Ten Hag got this one right. We won’t hear much about it, of course. When things go wrong for players, they have an army of agents and PR snivellers to brief on their behalf in a transparent and desperate attempt to shift blame and vaporise the whiff of poor behaviour. Some people even fall for such bulls**t.

Managers don’t really have this at their disposal, however. The days of top flight coaches talking off the record to reporters to increase levels of context, perspective and understanding have gone. Clubs don’t allow it. It makes them nervous.

So the only PR that people like Ten Hag have comes in the shape of results. The Dutchman is not a particularly eloquent talker, anyway. He is not hugely charismatic. All he’s got to place on the table is his body of work at United. That may have to get better if he is to survive the summer.

But Ten Hag played it right with Cristiano Ronaldo last season, he played it right with Sancho last autumn and now he’s played it right with Rashford too. Some people will claim not to see it that way but that’s largely because they are not terribly willing to take a look.

The Man United produced their most complete performance of the season against West Ham

The Man United produced their most complete performance of the season against West Ham

The Dutchman had been firm in his handling of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho

The Dutchman had been firm in his handling of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho

Ten Hag judged Rashford's situation correctly, as he did with both Ronaldo and Sancho

Ten Hag judged Rashford’s situation correctly, as he did with both Ronaldo and Sancho

 

Premier League set to shun semi-automated offside

The Premier League is unlikely to use semi-automated offside technology next season because they believe it to be less than perfect.

Good enough for the World Cup. Good enough for the Champions League. Not good enough for us. Odd.

 

Light the Wembley arch for El Tel 

The Football Association will no longer light up the Wembley arch for social or political causes after the fuss that followed their decision not to do it in support of Israel last October.

However, they remain at liberty to do it when it comes to football and when Brazil arrive for a friendly next month it would be fitting if they did so in memory of Terry Venables.

Venables, who died last November, lit up our game as England manager. The summer of 1996 was one that we all remember and not only because England almost reached the finals of the European Championships.

We remember it because of how England played in beating Holland 4-1 in the group stages. We remember it for that Paul Gascoigne goal against Scotland. We remember it because we almost beat Germany in the semi-finals.

That time of our lives was not perfect. There was still much wrong with our game back then. But Venables and his England team made us forget all about that for one golden month. It’s for this – and for many other reasons – that Venables needs a proper tribute on March 23.

If we don’t light the Wembley arch for Terry then when will we?

The Football Association should light the Wembley arch for Terry Venables next month

The Football Association should light the Wembley arch for Terry Venables next month

The late England boss deserves a fitting tribute for the summer his team provided in 1996

The late England boss deserves a fitting tribute for the summer his team provided in 1996

 

Inter Miami’s Messi tour falls flat in the Far East

Miami’s pre-season trip to the Far East should have brought guaranteed wins given that Lionel Messi was in the touring party.

Inter Miami’s pre-season trip to the Far East should have brought guaranteed wins given that Lionel Messi was in the touring party.

But the visit ran in to trouble when Messi was not deemed fit enough to play in a game against a Hong Kong XI for which 38,000 tickets had been sold for upwards of £100 each.

Inter Miami owner David Beckham was booed when he spoke after the game while Hong Kong city dignitaries subsequently made their own feelings known.

And this is the problem with the American MLS. It’s its marquee overseas players that lend it some sparkle. Without them it’s just another minority sport in a country smothered by the reach of American football, baseball and basketball.

Messi, for however long he stays, will not change this. Nor will the USA World Cup of 2026. Sometimes you just have to accept your place in line and get on with it.

Inter Miami's tour ran into troubled when Lionel Messi stayed on the bench in Hong Kong

Inter Miami’s tour ran into troubled when Lionel Messi stayed on the bench in Hong Kong

The incident showed only marquee stars like Messi are lending the MLS some sparkle

The incident showed only marquee stars like Messi are lending the MLS some sparkle

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