Unless the unexpected happens, Erik Ten Hag will be the new Manchester United manager. He will take over Ralf Rangnick, who will likely hand over a report with only six words, “Rip it up and start again.”
At the beginning of the season, the acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, and Raphael Varane brought back optimism that had been lacking at Old Trafford for a long while. United had just finished second, and it was expected that the three signings would be the final pieces of the jigsaw. However, as the season unfolded, United registered a string of poor results and performances, which culminated to the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Rangnick was brought in to steady the ship, but the frustration has continued. The engorged prostate of a team continues to plumb new depths of contempt for its own fans, tired of continuous lethargic performances.
The loss against Everton, badly managed than themselves and, described by former Burnley manager Sean Dyche as a team that “don’t know how to win,” really summed up where Manchester United are. A group of players lacking professional pride, and going through the motions every other day.
Anybody who thinks Ten Hag will make an instant impact and get this squad to carry a tune within 12 months has deserted their sanity. At the minimum, Ten Hag will need a minimum of three years, and the sorcery of Gandalf the White to make Manchester United a serious, competitive football club.
Realistically, eight of the regular starters this season are not good enough to be regular starters in a team aspiring to be competing amongst the top echelon of clubs. The new man will need to time to methodically replace most of the first team players, a process that will take several seasons, while implementing a coherent playing philosophy that Manchester United fans have craved for a long time.
The club must back the manager in this process. Next year will almost certainly be a write off, as there will be limited time to sign the right players, and let go several players who have poisoned the Old Trafford dressing room. Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, and Harry Maguire all pose the most pressing and varying problems for the future manager. Ronaldo’s desire to fluff his numbers at the expense of the team is a huge concern. Bruno Fernandes, who is wonderful footballer and ultimate firefighter, only functions optimally when the whole team is geared towards serving and playing through him. When required to fit his game into a more disciplined collective as seen under Ralf Rangnick, all his positives disappear and becomes a wasteful whiner.
As for Maguire, he is probably the worst player at United this season, and is probably the worst painful flop for a marquee signing since Fernando Torres at Chelsea. While United may not desert the wasteful investment in him yet, he presents a huge problem for the new coach, who will be torn between sticking by the club captain, and relegating him to the bench in favor of better defenders.
It is important that Manchester United have a strong setup in place to work with the next manager and the managers that come after. Their recruitment policy must be more effective than ever before. The club must recruit players that the new manager can work with and effectively mould over several seasons, the likes of Darwin Nunez, Jurrien Timber, and Fabian Ruiz, who provide a combination of promise and instant readiness with scope for recouping value later.
The boom and bust days of making big-name signings with little thought must end. This means that the club must forget names like Harry Kane, Erling Haaland and Declan Rice, who are so expensive that it limits the ability to strengthen in other areas. The last thing that a club starting again needs is an expensive, unhappy, and disruptive weight dragging down players that will affect squad development.
Nevertheless, the main resource this all needs, is time. The question is: Will Manchester United and its fans commit to offer that precious resource and start again?