Manchester United Must Now Decide Whether to Stick With Erik ten Hag or Sack Him

It was a largely disappointing season for Erik ten Hag at Manchester United as they finished eighth in the Premier League table, prompting speculations over Ten Hag’s future at Old Trafford, and with the season over, it is time for Sir Jim Ratcliffe to come out on his plans on whether he is backing the manager or not.


Injuries, fallouts and a lingering club restructure clearly affected Manchester United on the pitch and off it for the majority of the season. The Red Devils’ eighth-placed finish is their worst league position since 1990 as they both struggled to score enough goals up top, while conceding so many goals in defence. The team’s struggles also caused faith in Ten Hag to dwindle as United regressed after what was described as a brilliant first season for the former Ajax manager who finished third and won the EFL Cup. 



Only a year later and the Dutch tactician who quickly became famous among United fans for his statement “eras come to and end” (referencing the dominance of Liverpool and Manchester City in the Premier League), could see his time at the club reach its conclusion as he’s endured criticisms over the team’s tactical outlook on the pitch and his inability to adapt the team when certain players are unavailable.


Another thing that has come under scrutiny is the overall quality of a few of his signings like Antony who United paid a whopping £86m for, and has been disappointing since arriving from Ajax two years ago, as well as Andre Onana who replaced a United legend in David de Gea who won the Premier League Golden Glove in his last season, but has struggled between the sticks since the Spaniard departed.


Perhaps a greater frustration aimed at Ten Hag comes from the manner in which United have lost games this season. A bottom finish in the Champions League group left many fans unimpressed, coupled with a 3-0 humbling to Bournemouth as well as a 4-0 thrashing at Crystal Palace.



In the FA Cup, United gave away a 3-0 lead against Coventry City before just getting the better of the championship side on penalties to qualify for the final. The Red Devils would go on to play what was one of their best performances this season against Premier League champions and ‘noisy neighbours’ Manchester City in the FA Cup Final. United’s 2-1 win against City means Ten Hag has lifted two trophies in his two years at the club.


The performance by Ten Hag’s side against Manchester City was even more impressive as The Guardian had reported just on the eve of the FA Cup Final that Sir Jim Ratcliffe and other members of the United sporting board had decided to sack Ten Hag regardless of the outcome of the FA Cup Final. To then see United put up such a top performance in the win over Manchester City helps Ten Hag’s case on the kind of results the United board can expect if they back him to stay on as manager.


Indeed, even City boss Pep Guardiola credited Ten Hag’s tactical setup in the final: “My game plan was not good, the second half was much better in part because we were more intense because we had nothing to lose,” he said. “Erik is a lovely person and an extraordinary manager. Winning the FA Cup is important for them like last season was for us,” Pep added.



After winning the FA Cup Final, Ten Hag also had a few words to say regarding the rumours surrounding his future at the club. “When I took over we were in a mess,” he said. “The team is developing, the team is winning and the team plays to an identity. But you need a strong squad and the players to be available.”


“Two trophies in two years is not bad… Three finals in two years is not bad. I’m not satisfied with it. We have to do better. If they (Manchester United) don’t want me, then I go somewhere else to win trophies because that is what I do.” He added with an air of defiance.


It’s now over to Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his INEOS counterparts who will decide Ten Hag’s future. Admittedly, they haven’t done much to quell the rumours surrounding the Dutchman’s future at the club. Ratcliffe released a statement on the final whistle of the FA Cup Final to express his pride at the performance of United’s players and staff but made no direct reference to Ten Hag, which only further increased speculations of an impending sack.



With Ten Hag currently on holiday and a cloud of uncertainty still hanging over his future at Old Trafford, reports suggest INEOS have started engaging in exploratory talks with representatives of potential managers to replace him including the England manager Gareth Southgate, Thomas Frank, Thomas Tuchel, Roberto De Zerbi, Mauricio Pochettino and Kieran McKenna. However, McKenna has since committed his future to Ipswich as the Tractor Boys return to the Premier League after two decades.


Whether or not United stick with Ten Hag or sack him remains to be seen, but one thing is clear, the sooner the football management and the United hierarchy get on the same page, the better United’s chances are going into the next season. Unfortunately however, it seems there’s yet more drama to come out of the staples of Old Trafford.


By: Tomiwa Babalola / @olatomiwatobi

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Soccrates Images – Getty Images