WE know he’s a tough guy, who’s not afraid to make the tough calls, Erik ten Hag.
That much is brutally apparent.
EPAErik ten Hag already has two big questions to answer early in the season[/caption]
Contrast Ten Hag’s treatment of Jadon Sancho with the more understanding approach to Richarlison shown by Spurs manager Ange PostecoglouRex
Big balls, this fella. Proper hardline. An alpha male. A ‘come on punk, make my day’ kind of a boss.
Cue a standing ovation from the cheap seats, where they’re convinced Premier League footballers are all filthy-rich prima donnas who need to be brought down a peg.
And most managerial appointments are a reaction against the predecessor.
Who knows, when Ten Hag goes, maybe United will replace him with Peter Kay or one of Britain’s other leading light entertainers.
But with United in the bottom half of the table after five poor performances out of five, two questions arise.
Firstly, can Ten Hag’s ‘my way or the highway’ routine actually work at an elite club in the 21st century?
And secondly, while he has proved adept at tearing things apart, is the Dutchman actually showing any signs of building anything positive?
Consider Ten Hag’s approach to Sancho, against that of Tottenham’s Ange Postecoglou towards Richarlison.
The known circumstances are very different — Sancho is accused of lacking professionalism, while Richarlison has admitted he is struggling on a human level and seeking help with his mental health.
But the contrast in approach between the two managers still feels relevant.
Postecoglou spoke with intelligence and decency about Richarlison’s struggles on Friday.
The following day, the Brazilian headed an equaliser to spark an improbable injury-time comeback win against Sheffield United.
Ten Hag publicly stated that Sancho had trained poorly when he was left out of the squad for the defeat at Arsenal.
And when Sancho effectively accused his boss of lying and making him a ‘scapegoat’, he refused to apologise and has been frozen out of first-team training as a result.
Ten Hag has frozen Jadon Sancho out after a controversial disputeGetty
Consider that Antony is currently on leave of absence to address accusations of assaulting women, with Mason Greenwood on loan at Getafe after allegations of attempted rape, coercion and assault were dropped.
So it’s not as if Sancho is the baddest man at Carrington. And it’s not as if Ten Hag didn’t need wingers.
Indeed, he sent out a team in a midfield diamond, without wide forwards, against Brighton on Saturday and United took a 3-1 hiding.
The subject of footballers’ mental health is often turned on and off like a tap.
Dele Alli opens up bravely about the impact of an extremely difficult upbringing, and everyone salutes his bravery, promising to remember that footballers are humans and cut them some slack.
Then Sancho gets called out and he’s widely accused of being an ill-disciplined brat.
It would be interesting to hear Sancho’s full story but if he gave it, he would doubtless be fined two weeks’ wages.
Remember that Sancho was given an extended break last season to work on ‘physical and mental issues’.
Maybe a genuine tough guy doesn’t always need to make a show of being the tough guy. Footballers respect managers who are authentic.
Also remember that Sancho was bold enough to leave his comfort zone by moving to Borussia Dortmund as a 17-year-old and tore it up in the Bundesliga — a forerunner to Jude Bellingham.
Paint Sancho as a wrong ‘un all you like but the truth is almost certainly more complex. He’s probably a bundle of contradictions like most of us.
And he’s also a £73million player who operates in a position where United are lacking.
Ten Hag is a football manager, not the headmaster of a reform school.
If his approach doesn’t lead to United winning more football matches, then it isn’t working.
And maybe a genuine tough guy doesn’t always need to make such a show of being the tough guy.
Footballers respect managers who are authentic. Are United’s players respectful of Ten Hag’s methods?
Well it’s not as if Ten Hag’s ‘toughness’ is being reflected on the pitch.
Brighton waltzed through a static defence several times as they chalked up their fourth consecutive victory over United.
This season, United haven’t looked like a team with an identity and a plan.
Ten Hag built a wonderful side at Ajax but there are few signs of anything similar at Old Trafford.
Most of the club’s problems are not Ten Hag’s fault, especially as the Glazer family’s alleged ‘sale process’ drags on tortuously.
But United still spent just under £170million this summer only to have gone backwards.
It was widely expected that United would bid for Harry Kane — who faces them in the Champions League with Bayern Munich tomorrow.
But maybe that would have been too obvious — too much like Easy Street for Ten Hag.
Instead, this tough guy walks the hard yards.
He must hope that his players are willing to follow him.
SAY anything negative about the Premier League’s wealthiest clubs and you are invariably accused of jealousy.
No, God’s chosen people are Brighton fans — the street cred of the hard-times back story, the glorious rise, the ridiculously successful transfer policy, the beautiful football and the frequent mullerings of the elite.
As they make their European debut against AEK Athens on Thursday, we wish Seagulls supporters all the very best.
The lucky, lucky bleeders.
Out to lunch
COLIN MURPHY, who has died aged 79, was a successful lower-league manager, most notably at Lincoln City.
He was an obsessive football watcher, renowned for having the most high-mileage vehicle in the game.
Yet Murphy is best remembered for his magnificently bewildering programme notes.
Murphy once wrote: “You, me, we, all of us have been forced to breakfast on travesty, lunch on objection and insult, dine on inflicted pressure.
“High tea we daren’t sit still long enough to take and, by supper, we were still expected to have been victorious.”
Doubtless followed by: “Glenn Cockerill remains sidelined by a hamstring injury and I’d like to welcome the players, officials and supporters of Port Vale to Sincil Bank for today’s Division Three fixture.”
WHILE waiting to interview Gareth Southgate in a Hampden concourse last week, we perused the menu on offer to Scottish football fans.
Top of the list a kebab pie.
So on behalf of the civilised world, thanks to Jude Bellingham for putting these barbarians in their place.
A step too VAR
CHAMPIONSHIP clubs will shun the introduction of VAR because an overwhelming majority realise that the system has made Premier League football worse, not better.
Good on them for recognising technology does not always represent ‘progress’.