FootballPremier League

Graham Ruthven: “United are in a mess, but circumstances favour Ten Hag”

April 12, 2022

The need for change at Manchester United in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson age has never been as obvious as it is now. Saturday’s limp defeat to Everton further highlighted how deep the rot goes at Old Trafford with interim manager Ralf Rangnick unable to turn around a team in desperate need of an overhaul this summer.

More than one pundit has urged Erik ten Hag, United’s first-choice to take over permanently, to resist their overtures. The Dutchman should, as one newspaper headline put it, “run a mile” from Old Trafford following the failures of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, all of whom experienced the dysfunction of the club from within.

Indeed, there is an almighty job to be done at Manchester United. That cannot be denied. However, ten Hag would stand the best chance of success of any manager the club has appointed since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. United are in a mess, but circumstances could be in ten Hag’s favour.

One of Manchester United’s biggest failings in recent years was their refusal to build a sporting department to support their manager. The sport has moved on from the days of Ferguson, when one figure could control all at an elite level football club. But United failed to move on with it, instead looking for a leader that could do it all. No such person exists.

Liverpool and Manchester City prove what can be done when front office tasks are delegated, when the ideology of a club is aligned with that of its manager. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are era-defining coaches, but they wouldn’t be so successful without an entire club behind them pulling in the same direction.


This is where fundamental change might have already happened at Old Trafford. Last March, Manchester United hired their first football director in John Murtough and their first technical director in Darren Fletcher. Along with Rangnick, who is expected to stay on as a consultant after his role as interim manager ends, they will set strategy on recruitment, scouting and shape the overall philosophy of the club.

Some might argue Murtough and Fletcher should have put their stamp on United by now, but there was only so much influence they could impart while Solskjaer was in place as manager. This summer, and the appointment of a new boss, presents them with their first genuine opportunity to point the club in a new direction.

Perhaps the biggest reason for ten Hag to feel he stands the best chance of any post-Ferguson United manager is that he won’t have to work under Ed Woodward. By all accounts, Woodward’s ego and refusal to delegate had a particular impact on Manchester United’s activity in the transfer market with the club often slow to get deals done.


Now, Richard Arnold has replaced Woodward as CEO with the 50-year-old believed to be more open to the expansion of United’s football department. Beyond the signing off of transfers, Arnold’s role is expected to be an executive one with sporting responsibility handed to the likes of Murtough, Fletcher, Rangnick and ten Hag, should he take over.

What’s more, Manchester United have a number of high-earners out of contract this summer. Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata are all expected to be on the way out of Old Trafford which could give the club freedom to reshape their squad. No manager since Ferguson will have had this opportunity.

United may never be successful again as long as the Glazers remain in charge, such is the lack of direction provided at boardroom level by the American family, but ten Hag must look beyond the recent performances produced on the pitch before making his decision. Beneath everything may lie a golden opportunity.