By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
Erik ten Hag has won his first trophy as Manchester United manager just nine months after taking over at one of the lowest moments in the Old Trafford giants’ recent history.
After Sunday’s 2-0 win against Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final, the PA news agency takes a look at the Red Devils’ turnaround under the impressive Dutchman.
How bad were things when Ten Hag took over?
Having finished runners-up in both the Premier League and Europa League in 2020-21, the summer additions of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and returning star Cristiano Ronaldo further elevated expectations. But things unravelled spectacularly for United after a promising start, with 1999 treble hero Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sacked in November 2021 and interim replacement Ralf Rangnick overseeing a wretched end to last season. The 20-time league champions posted their worst ever Premier League points tally and were out of all cup competitions by mid-March. Far more was wrong with the team than right.
Why was Ten Hag chosen?
❛You’re never done learning, you always have to keep going.❜ - Erik ten Hag 🏆#XXXV pic.twitter.com/Br6IiVV0Lw
— AFC Ajax (@AFCAjax) May 18, 2021
After an interview process for Solskjaer’s permanent successor, the club ended speculation by naming Ajax boss Ten Hag as the man to lead them forward on April 21, 2022. Ten Hag was a proven winner at Ajax, having left with three Eredivisie titles, two Dutch cups and an unforgettable run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019, plus he had shown an ability to nurture young talent and develop players.
What did Ten Hag do to get started?
Having set out his long-term vision to the club hierarchy of building an exciting, winning team, Ten Hag stepped up planning for the new role as soon as Ajax had wrapped up last season’s Eredivisie crown. The 53-year-old flew to London and held a variety of meetings, from intricately planning pre-season to the summer recruitment strategy, before officially starting the job on May 23 – the day after he watched his new team limp to a 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace under Rangnick in the final game of the Premier League season. “Work hard, 100 per cent committed and then I’m sure we will get success,” he said at his unveiling press conference.
How has Ten Hag reshaped things?
Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic and Jesse Lingard left at the end of their deals, with Ten Hag’s acquisitions largely having links to the Eredivisie. Tyrell Malacia and Christian Eriksen joined along with Lisandro Martinez and Antony directly from former club Ajax, although serial winner Casemiro was the most eye-catching signing. Only left-back Malacia arrived in time for the pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia, where the meticulous disciplinarian’s fingerprints were evident from the first friendly. That high pressing, attacking football brought a 4-0 win against rivals Liverpool in Bangkok and continues to be a hallmark of a side that has beaten Manchester City, Arsenal and Barcelona, among other big names, this season.
What change has he made to the culture?
Cristiano Ronaldo is to leave Manchester United by mutual agreement, with immediate effect.
The club thanks him for his immense contribution across two spells at Old Trafford.#MUFC
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 22, 2022
Luke Shaw recently highlighted Ten Hag’s control and rules – discipline that saw Alejandro Garnacho shunned on tour and in-form Marcus Rashford start on the bench against Wolves on New Year’s Eve having overslept and been late to a team meeting. Long-serving Shaw also said the United boss keeps “everyone on their toes” by dropping underperforming players, saying “in the past that’s not been the case”. United captain Harry Maguire was dropped after the first two games of the season ended in defeat and has struggled for starts ever since. As for star name Ronaldo, the disgruntled frontman missed the pre-season due to family matters and was annoyed about his utilisation in the first section of the season. The 37-year-old’s critical, explosive interview with Piers Morgan saw his contract cancelled. United have won 15 out of 19 matches in all competitions since Ronaldo’s exit, losing just once at Premier League leaders Arsenal.
What next for Ten Hag and United?
Sunday’s Carabao Cup win was United’s first silverware since 2017, ending their longest trophy drought in 40 years. It saw Ten Hag join Jose Mourinho as the only managers in United’s history to win a major trophy in their first season and on-loan Wout Weghorst – the surprise replacement for departed star Ronaldo – says they are “hungry for more”. The striker said his manager is “living to win”, meaning attention turns straight from winning silverware to clawing back Arsenal’s league lead, progressing in the Europa League and knocking West Ham out of the FA Cup on Wednesday night. The United boss received applause from Sir Alex Ferguson, chief executive Richard Arnold and co-owner Avram Glazer in the tunnel after Sunday’s win at Wembley, but he knows there is plenty more to do.