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3 things that Erik ten Hag needs to do differently at Manchester United after putting pen to paper on a new deal

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3 things that Erik ten Hag needs to do differently at Manchester United after putting pen to paper on a new deal

According to a Mirror report, Manchester United are ready to hand Erik ten Hag a two-year contract extension worth £27 million to continue on as their men’s first-team manager.

The Dutch manager was reportedly set to be sacked regardless of what happened in the FA Cup final.

After the final, which United won in remarkable fashion, the new INEOS sporting ownership of Man United declared that they would carry out an intense full-season review to reach a verdict, for which they took weeks. Now, they have decided to keep him at Old Trafford until 2027.

Two years, two trophies for Ten Hag at United.
Two years, two trophies for Ten Hag at United.

The storm has subsided for the Dutchman—for now. There were a fair few issues last season that could have, many would say should have, shown Ten Hag the United exit door, but circumstances have helped him.

Here are the three most important things he needs to improve upon next season.

More tactical clarity

From fans to experts, and sometimes even players, almost all failed to understand what Ten Hag wanted to achieve with his football in the season gone by.

Ten Hag’s mid-season comments about not playing Ajax’s football at United were controversial, but not without reason. A good pragmatic manager conflates their philosophy with that of the institution, especially the ones as big as Man United and Ajax.

And in 2022/23, that pragmatism was on display. Ten Hag’s tactical changes after suffering heavy defeats in his first two games made sense. His choice of making Christian Eriksen play deeper in the first phase of play and pushing Casemiro up forward made sense given the two’s respective playmaking abilities. Moving from a possession-heavy setup to a counter-attacking one made sense.

But that cannot be said for 2023/24. Players better suited to possession-based setups were popping up in counter-attacking setups and vice versa. Yes, United had injuries, but even when there were players at his disposal, Ten Hag made some very odd choices. He would then make things even worse for himself by coming off as completely in denial of United’s poor performances in press conferences, which endeared him to no one.

Going forward, a United fan can only hope that there is more clarity in the calls he makes, at least for the sake of the players, who at the end of the day have to carry out his orders and then take the fans’ response as well.

Better communication with players

Speaking of players, Ten Hag quarrelled with a fair few this season. We are all well aware of the Jadon Sancho case, but there were also separate issues with Raphaël Varane, Casemiro, and Marcus Rashford.

His obsession to continue with Antony can also be adjudged a form of miscommunication for the rest of his squad, which also played a key role in souring his relationship with Sancho.

It’s not just with the players; even when speaking to the media, Ten Hag often seems unable to properly elucidate his thoughts. Maybe this is a language barrier thing, in which case he should understand his shortcomings and take the help of those better able to communicate on his behalf. If it’s not, then he needs to understand and do better himself.

Make peace with reality

Ten Hag needs to understand one thing for his sake—United are sticking with him not because they want to, but because they have to.

Yes, the FA Cup helped his case a bit, but the reports of INEOS having made their mind up were not unfounded. It was only after they took stock of their own situation is when they decided to keep the current setup in place.

INEOS ideally would want a slate as clean as possible, which included doing away with Ten Hag and his staff. The majority of the 2023/24 season told them that they could get away with it, but they also have a sporting director-shaped problem of their own.

Having been poaching Dan Ashworth since February, INEOS would have expected him to be in place alongside Omar Berrada and Jason Wilcox by now, and that would unquestionably have nailed the coffin in Ten Hag’s United career.

But that is not how things have panned out. Ashworth remains on gardening leave, and recent mail leaks between him and Berrada make things worse for United.

Without a sporting director, INEOS cannot realistically have a long-term plan in place for United, and if they have to wait in the short term anyway, why do away with the existing setup, especially when said setup has managed to deliver two trophies in two seasons?

And, if it doesn’t work out, with or without a contract extension (the extension is a mistake, by the way) INEOS can always dismiss Ten Hag midway through next season and get an interim manager in place until their directorial situation is sorted out.

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United’s 2024/25 season will be a transitional one, and Ten Hag remains on borrowed time. Unless he enforces some big, sweeping changes within himself and in his squad, no amount of extended years in his contract will extend his stay at Old Trafford beyond next season.