Manchester United, ten Hag’s Embarrassing Start Should Come As No Surprise

Manchester United, ten Hag’s Embarrassing Start Should Come As No Surprise

Published August 14, 2022
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It wasn’t just the scoreline—although letting in more goals against Brentford in a 25-minute spell than you’ve conceded against them in the previous 84 years is hard to avoid—but the nature of the performance. United was insipid, lacking confidence and conviction, and devoid of a functional game plan. And the fear must be that next week, when United faces Liverpool, it will get worse.

It was that defeat at Palace that prompted the dismissals of both the manager Frank O’Farrell and the wayward superstar George Best (although he subsequently returned to the club) and the appointment of the abrasive Tommy Docherty. There was a recognition then that, even four years after winning the European Cup, the task was enormous. Docherty’s first full season ended in relegation, but he was kept on and allowed to continue his rebuild, finishing third in 1976 and then lifting the FA Cup in 1977 before being sacked over his affair with the physio’s wife.

But ten Hag is two games into his reign, and he’s the first United manager to lose his first two games since John Chapman in 1921. There is a wayward superstar in Cristiano Ronaldo who needs to be offloaded before any real rebuild can begin, but ten Hag’s position is surely not yet under threat. Who else, after all, could be expected to manage a squad as dysfunctional as this? Who would want to?

There has been a lot of criticism of the Glazers and a lack of investment. That is true in terms of infrastructure and backroom staff. Old Trafford is old-fashioned and crumbling, the train facilities have barely changed in 15 years, the academy is struggling. If United has a scouting and recruitment department, it is largely being ignored: Every summer target has been either somebody ten Hag knew from his days in the Eredivisie or somebody famous for not merely being talented but also wayward.