- Erik ten Hag admitted that he has taken calculated gambles to raise standards
- The Manchester United boss has not been afraid to crack down on bad behaviour
- Ten Hag has swiftly commanded a lot of respect at the club over big decisions
- The 52-year-old has also criticised the club’s previous recruitment policy.
Erik ten Hag has admitted he took a calculated gamble with his actions towards Manchester United’s players in order to raise disciplinary standards.
There is a distinct sense that United are getting their act together once again and the main reason is down to how Ten Hag has not been afraid to crack down on behaviour in the dressing room — it has been clear for a long time that he is very much in charge.
This point has been emphasised with the scathing assessment he made of the club’s transfer policy in an interview with a Dutch publication, published yesterday.
Ten Hag’s handling of the circus around Cristiano Ronaldo was impressive but the most telling episode in his first six months was when he joined his squad on an eight-mile run the day after they were pummelled 4-0 by Brentford.
It was a move that could easily have alienated him from those who had doubts but, if anything, it showed them who was boss. Since then Ten Hag has been meticulous in laying down ground rules for the behaviour he expects and the new- found discipline can be seen in performances.
‘Maybe it was a risk but if you want to develop something, if you want to create a winning attitude and winning culture, you have to go this way,’ said Ten Hag, whose side will expect to progress to the League Cup semi-finals on Tuesday when they host Charlton.
‘Everyone will do it their own way. But if you allow them to be ill-disciplined, if you don’t match the standards, values and rules we set together as a team and as staff —and if you don’t have that togetherness in the dressing room — then it will come back and it will blow up in your face.
On the pitch that will happen if you do not have the discipline needed to win games. It’s about big responsibility, so you have to go that way.’
The respect Ten Hag has swiftly commanded has enabled him to make calls such as leaving Harry Maguire out of his team, jettisoning Ronaldo and even dropping Marcus Rashford for the Boxing Day win at Wolves when the England forward overslept for a team meeting.
It is difficult to imagine that predecessor Ralf Rangnick would have got the response from Rashford that Ten Hag received, when he came off the bench at Molineux to score the decisive goal and power United’s push for a top-four finish.
His work is being met with great hope — but these are the moments in which the man himself is worried that complacency may creep in, which would be a calamity as United’s next Premier League assignments are against Manchester City and Arsenal.
‘You have to be watchful for this,’ said Ten Hag. ‘We have to keep this focus and concentration.’
What would certainly help Ten Hag is the addition of a new forward.
Whatever frustrations he felt at missing out on Cody Gakpo to Liverpool have not been allowed to surface but it is evident that how the club had recruited players before arrival had led him to raise an eyebrow.
‘There was no spirit,’ he told Voetbal International. ‘I saw no team dynamic in the squad. The mental resilience was very low. I saw that as an outsider — and also noticed it in my first weeks at the club.
‘I looked at the culture of the club. I asked ‘how did Manchester United become great?’
‘The club has bought an unimaginable number of players in recent years who have not been good enough.’