Ibiza Summit: Why Erik ten Hag Wasn’t Sacked

Ibiza Summit: Why Erik ten Hag Wasn’t Sacked

Unsurprisingly for a flight to Ibiza on a Tuesday in June, most of those onboard were eyeing up a week of partying into the early hours. 

But a couple of passengers had a different club on their minds. The delegation, unrecognised by their fellow travellers, came from Old Trafford and were heading to the white island to spread some sunshine of their own. 

Their mission was to meet Erik ten Hag, currently holidaying in the Balearics following a long and often miserable season, and discuss the future of Manchester United. 

Despite weeks of speculation and not-so-secret ‘soundings out’ of potential replacements in venues from Mayfair to Monaco, the review carried out by new investor Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos team had concluded that the Dutchman was the best man for the job. 

While he had been already been informed of the decision, in true Ineos style those involved needed to know that all parties were ‘aligned’ – and so off the lieutenants flew. 

Erik ten Hag will remain as Manchester United manager following an end-of-season review

There had been major speculation over Ten Hag's future and many expected him to depart

There had been major speculation over Ten Hag’s future and many expected him to depart

Such a prospect was unthinkable less than three weeks ago. But that was before two unthinkable things happened. 

United defeated rivals City to stun the world in the FA Cup Final thanks to a tactical masterclass from a dead man walking. And with the doubt triggered by that unlikely victory continuing to linger, talks with potential replacements failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion. 

Instead, one question kept repeating itself to the likes of Sir Dave Brailsford, Jason Wilcox and Jean-Claude Blanc, the brains trust tasked with sticking or twisting. ‘Is changing going to make us better?’ 

By the end, the verdict was unanimous. No, Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino, Roberto De Zerbi, Thomas Frank and Marco Silva would not be an upgrade. Ten Hag would be staying. 

The scale of the task that would have faced any of those listed above is as daunting as the emptiness of the treasure chest. United have no open cheque book. Financial fair play, coupled with disastrous transfer windows, kills them. 

They want a manager who can develop talent from the academy and get the best out of what he has. 

Ratcliffe has already publicly questioned the need to spend hundreds of millions on a Kylian Mbappe when you can develop your own superstar.

Did any of the candidates fit that bill? Tuchel, who was entertained by Ratcliffe in Monaco, came closest to getting over the line and discussions went as far as numbers. 

But in the end, he decided a break – rather than a spell at the most scrutinised club in the country – was what he needed. 

As for the other Thomas, Brentford’s Frank, it never really got beyond the initial getting-to-know-you-stage. All was amicable. For United they got to learn a little more about the talented Dane. 

For Brentford, they got the prestige of seeing their man linked with one of the biggest jobs in sport and, more importantly, more confirmation that they were doing something right. 

Ten Hag (head of the table) discussed his future with United officials at a four-hour summit in Ibiza, where he was on holiday, with both parties speaking to make sure they were 'aligned'

Ten Hag (head of the table) discussed his future with United officials at a four-hour summit in Ibiza, where he was on holiday, with both parties speaking to make sure they were ‘aligned’ 

Thomas Tuchel held talks with United, but the German decided to take a break from football

Thomas Tuchel held talks with United, but the German decided to take a break from football

How it played out came as little surprise to those upstairs who were far more concerned that Frank would make the short trip across west London to Chelsea, rather than 160 miles north. 

Pochettino has often been linked with United and has a known admirer in Sir Alex Ferguson. But talks with the Argentine came in the same week he escaped Chelsea. 

The view was that the had barely stopped spinning in the washing machine and may well be best served doing a Tuchel and taking some time off. 

It is understood that the prospect of negotiating an agreement with Chelsea over compensation due under the terms of his departure from Stamford Bridge also complicated matters. 

Time ticked by. Insiders have insisted that there was no serious consideration of Gareth Southgate. 

Now their argument seems sound. Why would they embark on this process if the man they really wanted was out of the country and unavailable until July at the earliest? Could they really have kept Ten Hag waiting that long? 

At no stage did a standout candidate emerge. Ratcliffe, Brailsford and Ineos have a certain way of operating. They believe in their system. The review into the season identified a number of areas outside of the dugout that could be improved drastically. 

Injuries are key. As Mail Sport revealed, Carrington is to be transformed this summer with the emphasis on ensuring an elite environment that promotes wellbeing – and prevents another season wrecked by absences. 

The failure of Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho suggest United post-Fergie is the impossible job. The view is that Ten Hag needs to be given the tools to succeed. Then, there can be no excuses. 

In Ibiza, there was a four-hour summit which took the format of a frank, honest and ‘grown up conversation’. 

Ten Hag was presented with the findings of the investigation Ratcliffe’s group had commissioned. It was methodical and analysis driven. There was also talk of a new contract and a discussion over a willingness to work under the roles-defined strategy Ineos believe will return United to its former glories. 

Roberto De Zerbi and Thomas Frank were also courted by United officials

United ultimately concluded that Ten Hag is the right man for the job

Roberto De Zerbi (left) and Thomas Frank (right) were also courted by Man United officials

Despite discussions among United's hierarchy, at no stage did a standout candidate emerge

Despite discussions among United’s hierarchy, at no stage did a standout candidate emerge

A system where the manager takes the form of a head coach, where the sporting director leads recruitment and where the technical director dictates the style of play. 

Ten Hag sees himself as more of a traditional manager and will see his power diluted. He may even see his job title change. While he retains his position, United did not swerve a series of issues for which Ten Hag would have to take his share of the blame. 

His input into transfers and a series of disastrous signings, including the £85.5m paid for the one-footed Anthony, who failed to come off the bench at Wembley, will be slashed. 

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In a summer when Harry Kane and Declan Rice moved to new pastures, how did United end up with £60m Mason Mount, who spent most of the year on the sidelines, paying £47m for Andrew Onana who had been available on a free a year earlier? And what of Rasmus Hojlund, who at £72m plus add-ons is deemed ludicrously overpriced among United’s top flight rivals. 

They were decisions that pushed Ten Hag towards the guillotine, especially after the 4-0 humiliation at Crystal Palace and the shambles at the FA Cup semi-final when United tried their best to bow out to Championship Coventry. 

There is only £50m to spend prior to departures this time and United are already working at getting players out. Mason Greenwood has attracted interest from Juventus and Napoli, Jadon Sancho, who had a spectacular falling out with Ten Hag, may extend his stay with Borussia Dortmund. 

It remains to be seen what happens to Marcus Rashford, who performed the football equivalent of falling off a cliff after a spectacular season in which he scored 30 goals two years ago. 

This campaign he hit the headlines for very different reasons following an early hours night out in October after the 3-0 derby hammering by City in November and a drunken night in January that saw him phone in sick for training and subsequently dropped for the FA Cup tie at Newport County suggested he was not listening to his manager. 

It is hard to see a world in which, should anyone get near the fee and the wages, the boy from Wythenshawe departs for pastures new that may be for the best for both parties. 

In truth, United endured a dismal season and ended up finishing eighth in the Premier League

In truth, United endured a dismal season and ended up finishing eighth in the Premier League

It speaks volumes that, outside of a small group including the likes of Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho (right) and Kobbie Mainoo (left), United will entertain offers for most of their squad

It speaks volumes that, outside of a small group including the likes of Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho (right) and Kobbie Mainoo (left), United will entertain offers for most of their squad

Indeed, it speaks volumes that, outside of a small group including the likes of Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo, United will entertain offers for most of their squad. 

Others away from the manager will be tasked with identifying replacements. A centre forward, defensive midfielder and centre-half are the priority areas. 

More harmony is required in the dressing room. When Ten Hag arrived he attempted to instil his philosophy into his players telling them that when they did not have the ball he wanted to buzz around their opponents ‘like bees’, before making buzzing noises to make the point. 

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At one point earlier this season some, according to sources, mimicked the noises when his back was turned. 

Regardless, the manager retains the backing of most of the players and will be seeking to extend his own majority in this election summer. 

At the end of the Cup triumph he was hoisted into the air by Lisandro Martinez. Others raced towards him to celebrate. It was clear that he had not lost the dressing room. 

The hints were there in the build up to Wembley. Players arrived in their rooms at the Marriott in Maida Vale to find drawings, paintings and supportive messages from their loved ones, part of a project between Ten Hag and the club’s player liaison department. 

It should have come as no surprise. While he is a strict disciplinarian, Ten Hag has empathy. 

In the midst of the season he arranged a winter barbecue and family day, at which players kids were treated to facepainting and bouncy castles. 

Prior to the derby under the arch, two motivational films were shown, including one in which a female member of the club’s security team spoke of her time in the armed forces and of ending up trapped in a village with her platoon. 

Despite occasions where harmony was lacking, Ten Hag retains overall support of the players

Despite occasions where harmony was lacking, Ten Hag retains overall support of the players

But his input into transfers and a series of disastrous signings, including the £85.5m paid for the one-footed Anthony, who failed to come off the bench at Wembley, will be slashed

But his input into transfers and a series of disastrous signings, including the £85.5m paid for the one-footed Anthony, who failed to come off the bench at Wembley, will be slashed

Outnumbered, she described in detail how the group worked as a team to escape. Not all of them got out alive. The message was clear – others had triumphed against bigger odds than those they were about to face. 

Triumph they did. Had they not, Ten Hag was gone. It was as simple as that. But as United fans left Wembley the tune had sharply changed. The majority made it clear they wanted Ten Hag to stay, and that the fault did not lie at his door. 

In that respect, Ineos have managed to read the room and their willingness to react has been greeted largely positively. 

As late as last Tuesday they had been speaking to candidates, including Tuchel, but a week later they moved in an opposite direction by staying where they were. 

Talks stepped up over the weekend. The decision was reached unanimously on Monday. 

All that was left was to obtain the approval of the Glazers, which was never going to be an issue. 

While Ten Hag stays, there may well be changes to his backroom staff. At various stages throughout last season, which saw United finish eighth, end up with a negative goal difference and crash out of the Europe following a pitiful showing in the Champions League, players had suggested changes to his approach. 

The FA Cup victory over United’s arch-rivals City helped to turn the tide in Ten Hag’s favour 

Jason Wilcox (second left, front row) and Dave Brailsford (right) had a key role in the decision

Jason Wilcox (second left, front row) and Dave Brailsford (right) had a key role in the decision

Indeed, some at the club queried whether new voices and new direction were needed alongside Ten Hag on the bench. The talk in Ibiza, which will be continued in Manchester, centred around how can the club learn from their mistakes. How can they be better in future. 

While the manager remains the same the set-up will be entirely different. In July Omar Berrada arrives from Manchester City as chief executive. He will join Jason Wilcox, the new technical director, with Dan Ashworth due as sporting director.

While the load has been shared it remains a huge job. Contract talks remain ongoing but the belief is that Ten Hag, whose deal expires at the end of next season, will be given an extra two years. 

He – and the new Manchester United – may need it.

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