So, Manchester United are closing in on their new manager. Now comes the easy part – completely overhauling a club sliding further into mediocrity.
All roads lead to Erik ten Hag right now, and the Dutchman is certainly not going to have an easy job on his hands, he should take charge this summer. You need only take a cursory glance at the goings-on at Old Trafford this season to realize it’ll be more than just a case of signing one or two players and going again.
The new boss will have a glut of players leaving for free, question marks over the future of many others, too many players underperforming, and a to-do list for the transfer window which has somehow grown despite the vast sums of money spent over the last few years. And that’s before you even get to arguably his biggest problem.
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United have been anything but this season. Rumors of discontent within the dressing room have plagued the club throughout, with cliques forming and teammates seemingly not seeing eye-to-eye. Even Ten Hag’s impending arrival has led to a divide.
As reported by the Manchester Evening News, the dressing room has been split over the Ajax boss’ appointment. When the race between him and Mauricio Pochettino was much more even, it seemed the players were in favor of the former Tottenham boss. Now that Ten Hag has pulled clear and is sprinting towards the finish line, the squad still can’t come to an agreement.
Disharmony within United’s squad is certainly nothing new, and it’s been one of the biggest burdens during what has been a dismal campaign at Old Trafford. The problem showed itself in January, when United focused on offloading some of the unhappy members of their squad, rather than signing new players.
Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek made their way out on loan, while moves for Jesse Lingard and Dean Henderson were mooted, though ultimately fell through. And, at least for a while, it seemed to make a difference for interim boss Ralf Rangnick.
“There were players unhappy, the squad was too big, players realized they wouldn’t get game time and the atmosphere is better than it used to be a couple of weeks ago,” Rangnick said back in February. “Now, for us it’s about performing well, showing togetherness on the pitch, winning games and those are the things we can influence.”
The second part of that statement has not gone according to plan. Given Rangnick’s take on the club’s atmosphere, you can only imagine how bad it must have been beforehand for the current situation to be deemed an improvement.
Nevertheless, it has perhaps demonstrated the sheer scale of the job facing Ten Hag. or any new boss, this summer. Before he’s even stepped through the door at Old Trafford, he’s facing a squad with players who have already written him off.
We already know there will be some big-name departures this summer – Paul Pogba for one, while Lingard, Juan Mata and Edinson Cavani are also out of contract. Martial and Van de Beek will be returning in the summer, and it may be up to Ten Hag to decide what happens to them. Certainly for the former, an exit would appear to be the most likely outcome.
But, if he is to be met with a lukewarm reception from players, then he perhaps needs to take a more ruthless approach. Having a divided dressing room has done United absolutely no favors this season, and it certainly isn’t a good basis for a new manager to work from.
Increasing the manager’s workload in the summer transfer window is perhaps not the ideal way to begin a tenure at Old Trafford, but if Ten Hag is to succeed where others have failed, he may well have to wield the ax a little more vigorously. It’s a squad already in need of an overhaul, so what better time to implement that?
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