Restoring the lost glory: How is Erik ten Hag transforming Manchester United?

The Hard Tackle looks at how Erik ten Hag is transforming Manchester United after the Red Devils won the Carabao Cup on Sunday.

“You will always see that an era can come to an end.” Those were the famous words professed by Erik ten Hag in his first press conference as the Manchester United manager. The Red Devils were downtrodden following another trophy-less campaign.

This time, the energy and spirit were nowhere to be seen following the arrival of a new manager after Ralf Rangnick’s disastrous stint as the caretaker manager. That was after Manchester United somehow crawled to a sixth-placed finish to qualify for the UEFA Europa League.

No longer were the Red Devils a force to be reckoned with, either in Europe or in domestic football. The wave of optimism from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s days was over. Erik ten Hag had a Herculean task at hand to bring the glory days back to Manchester United.

The Dutchman’s words in his first press conference might have hyped up the fans. But all the vigour quickly evaporated when Manchester United lost the first two games of the 2022/23 season. The first was a listless performance against Brighton & Hove Albion, while Brentford handed a 4-0 chastening in the second outing.

Yet, here we are, six months later. And the Red Devils have won the first trophy of the 2022/23 season, beating Newcastle United in the Carabao Cup final. They have risen from the depths of despair to again feel buoyant and bullish. And as new hope rises and fans look into a bright future, The Hard Tackle looks at how Erik ten Hag is transforming Manchester United, one game at a time.

Emphasis on discipline and Cristiano Ronaldo’s infamous exit

Let’s again take a trip back to the dreaded August afternoon when Brentford smashed four goals past Manchester United in one half. Erik ten Hag was feeling the heat just two games into his stint in England. The Dutchman, clearly seething, admitted that the team was not “ready” for the challenge.

He knew something had to change, and he needed to imbibe the importance of discipline. The very next day, only a few hours after the trouncing, ten Hag ordered the players to train on the day off, reportedly running 14 kilometres with them. And that has set the tone for the squad to gradually lean into the 53-year-old’s methods.

There has invariably been some resistance, particularly from a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese international, now at Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, often threw a hissy fit when things did not go his way in the first half of the 2022/23 season.

Ronaldo barely started games between August and November after missing the pre-season campaign. And ten Hag was adamant that the 38-year-old needed to bring his fitness and sharpness to the desired levels. So when he did not start games, Ronaldo was often seen sulking on the bench.

In the background, he had tasked Jorge Mendes to find him a new club, which did not happen. And even though ten Hag publicly asserted that Ronaldo was in his plans, those antics must have been strike one. Strike two came when Ronaldo decided to saunter off into the tunnel before the Premier League game against Tottenham ended. Rumour had it that he had even departed the stadium by the time the team returned to the dressing room.

The veteran striker earned a reprimand from ten Hag after that incident, and he did not play the next game against Chelsea. But Ronaldo still did not learn his lesson and blurted out misinformed comments on ten Hag, among others, in that infamous interview with Piers Morgan (of all people). Strike three.

So off went Ronaldo out of Manchester United, with his second stint ending in a whimper. The Red Devils terminated his contract, and it took him several more weeks to zero in on his next destination. Meanwhile, ten Hag and Manchester United put Ronaldo in the rearview mirror and focused on restarting the season with renewed vigour.

But the Dutch tactician was still not one to take any infractions lightly. He reprimanded Marcus Rashford, arguably the most in-form player in the world since the World Cup ended, and left him on the bench for a game against Wolverhampton Wanderers. The reason? The Englishman was late for a team meeting by a few minutes.

So it is well-established that ten Hag is a stickler for discipline. And the Manchester United players have gradually adapted to those principles, with Bruno Fernandes recently admitting that ten Hag’s is the way it has to be for the club. Luke Shaw has also echoed those sentiments in a recent interview with Sky Sports.

All that has consequently translated into performances on the pitch, with no player giving an inch during his stay on the field. That has compelled many fans to point to similarities between ten Hag and Sir Alex Ferguson, a manager the Dutchman looks up to. And as long as ten Hag continues to run the Manchester United dressing room with an iron-fisted grip on the disciplinary aspect, the Red Devils will be in good stead.

Rekindling the fire within Marcus Rashford

One of the recent debacles for Manchester United has been the inability to produce world-class players from the academy. Several promising prospects have emerged from the youth division, only to be flash in the pan. And hardly anyone has set the stage alight in the last decade, if not longer.

But when Marcus Rashford emerged as an emergency solution for Louis van Gaal in the 2015/16 season, fans had hope for a bright future for the young forward. The Englishman continued to show glimpses of his brilliant potential from time to time without being consistent, bar one season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Many even gave up on him following a forgettable 2021/22 campaign, where he was a shell of his ingenious self. But that was down to a gamut of factors, including fatigue from long-winding seasons, niggling fitness issues, and a toxic dressing room environment. With all of that dissipating this season, Rashford has been reinvigorated.

The 25-year-old has become a talismanic figure for Manchester United, especially since the season resumed. He also took the aforementioned disciplinary sanction in his stride and has constantly improved. Enjoying the form of his life, Rashford is at the peak of his powers and scoring goals for fun. And Manchester United fans have become accustomed to his now trademark celebration.

The famous action refers to a change in his mindset, and ten Hag deserved a lot of the credit for the upturn in fortunes. The situation has transformed so staggeringly that ten Hag is now desperate to see Manchester United tying Rashford to a new long-term contract. And if things continue to progress as they have thus far, the contract renewal will be a matter of formality.

Willingness to adapt; instilling the winning mentality

Erik ten Hag arrived at Manchester United with the reputation of being an advocate of possession-based football. A student of the famous Dutch principles, he cut his teeth at Bayern Munich. And his spell withย Die Roten’s reserve side coincided with Pep Guardiola’s spell at the Allianz Arena.

The Dutchman then oversaw a memorable reign as the Ajax boss. And his teams often tended to play an unmistakable brand of eye-catching football. So when Manchester United appointed ten Hag as the new manager, fans hoped to see a possession-based style. But that has not been the case thus far.

The Red Devils have shown flashes of what they can look like once they are completely in ten Hag’s image. But some of the limitations of his squad have forced ten Hag to take a step back and adapt accordingly. So he has been happy to set his team up to absorb the pressure, which they showed in the Carabao Cup final.

Manchester United also used those tactics efficiently in the win over Manchester City last month. At the same time, they have become slicker on the ball, pointing to a bright future in a different style. But playing counter-attacking football is not beyond ten Hag. And why not, considering he has players like Marcus Rashford at his disposal?

Apart from being flexible and adaptable to different ideas, he has also instilled a winning mentality at Manchester United. And the earliest example of ten Hag being determined to win trophies came several months ago. There, he said he wanted Manchester United to be in a position to win trophies in February. And that is exactly what has happened as the second month of 2023 ends.

Signing players like Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez has helped. But ten Hag has harnessed the prior trophy-winning experience of those players (and Raphael Varane, among others) to the benefit of the rest of the squad.

Casemiro, in particular, has had a transformative effect on Manchester United. And his presence has also evidently galvanised Varane, who was subdued last season. The Brazilian international, like ten Hag, demands excellence. And he has helped carry the manager’s ideas by leading by example on the pitch.

Meanwhile, ten Hag continues to win the hearts of the Manchester United supporter with his latest gesture. That has come in the form of an open letter to the fans, promising he will deliver more trophies. And there is no reason to believe why Manchester United cannot enjoy triumphant runs in other competitions this season.

Leave Comment


Welcome Back!

Login to your account below

Retrieve your password

Please enter your username or email address to reset your password.