Should Manchester United keep Erik ten Hag after this season?

Analysis of the pros and cons of keeping the Dutch manager on board now Manchester United is under new senior management

With Erik ten Hag’s job at Manchester United safe until the summer, the focus turns to whether or not the club will, and indeed should, keep the Dutchman in the long term. While Sir Jim Ratcliffe controls United’s football policy, the final decision on Ten Hag’s future may well be influenced by the judgment of Jason Wilcox and Omar Berrada, the incoming technical director and chief executive respectively. (Presuming compensation is not agreed with Newcastle that would allow Dan Ashworth to begin his role as head of football at Old Trafford before the summer.) We assess the case for and against those in power sticking with the current manager beyond the current campaign.

The case for

Injuries and illnesses have not helped

One of football’s hoariest chestnuts is how players being in the treatment room or feeling unwell should never be an excuse for poor performances. But when, as has been the case for United this season, the list of unavailable first team players reaches double figures, then injuries and illness are legitimately no longer an excuse, and more definite factors in a team’s inability to function. Last season Ten Hag took United to two cup finals, winning one, and to third in the Premier League with a largely fit and healthy squad and arguably that is what he should be judged on, rather than his achievements with more limited resources this campaign.

Shown he can handle a club in flux


Given his nationality, Ten Hag is versed in the yarn of the boy sticking a finger in a dyke to prevent Haarlem flooding. The 54-year-old is the personification of the tale as a United manager forced to use copious digits to prevent his plans being wrecked by a myriad of outside forces. This trait was admirably on display last season, seen in Ten Hag’s handling of Cristiano Ronaldo going on strike (twice) and the Glazers putting the club up for sale. This season, meanwhile, he has had to contend with Ratcliffe’s shake-up of the club – after the minority shareholder arrived at Old Trafford on Christmas Eve – and done so with typical dignity and calm.

Knows how to get to a cup final

Sunday was undoubtedly alarming for all concerned but it also ended with the club reaching a second FA Cup final in two seasons – Manchester City are the opponents at Wembley on May 25 – and a third final including last season’s Carabao Cup. Ten Hag deserves rich credit for this. As he pointed out after the win over Coventry, in the decade before he took over at United they reached three Wembley finals in total. Ten Hag has as many on his CV in a fifth of the time and could win a second trophy in successive seasons. Compare, too, his record to that of Mikel Arteta, who was also questioned during the first two years of his tenure at Arsenal: the Dutchman has a 57.94 per cent win rate compared with Arteta’s 58 per cent.

Can keep seat warm for Gareth Southgate

Ratcliffe and his key adviser, Sir Dave Brailsford, are admirers of Gareth Southgate but any attempt to hire him would have to wait until England’s Euro 2024 campaign is over. That may well mean Ten Hag having the first month or so of the new season to impress, and if he does not Brailsford can speed dial his good friend to come in and save the day. How such a move would go down with United’s fanbase is unclear.

The case against

Has a dodgy eye for a player

Lisandro Martínez, Antony, Casemiro, Tyrell Malacia, Mason Mount, Wout Weghorst, Sofyan Amrabat, Marcel Sabitzer and Christian Eriksen: nine of Ten Hag’s 16 signings can be filed under either ineffective – Antony, Sabitzer, Weghorst, Amrabat, Eriksen – or infirm – Casemiro, Malacia, Mount and Martínez. If it is not the fault of any of those four they have suffered multiple injuries, it remains the stark truth that a player unavailable for long stretches is useless to his manager, and Ten Hag had a large part in signing all of them. As he did, too, the former five, whose under-par displays have been a major factor in results.

Has no discernible style of play

A view has formed that Ten Hag’s United have no clear approach beyond hoping not to ship goals from the many shots they concede and ultimately outscoring the opposition. Last season, with more key players fit for longer, this way of playing was relatively successful. This season, however, with a lengthy injury/illness list, the Ten Hag style has appeared a risky, messy gamble. A lack of midfield stability, which has been fundamental to the recent leaking of late goals, has compounded this. It may be prudent of Ratcliffe and his board to study Ajax games under Ten Hag, and see if his gung-ho approach is indeed his favoured style.

Questions over coaching

Casemiro admitting that United collectively “panicked” against Coventry is damning of Ten Hag as this points to questionable work on the training pitch and an inability by the manager to prepare his team for different match scenarios. A footballer continually reminded of what to do in particular situations surely has the optimum chance of executing these instructions; if Ten Hag is doing this and his players are failing to adhere to those instructions then he should be pulling them out of the starting XI until they can manage it.

Thomas Tuchel is available

A man who won the Champions League by outsmarting Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the final simply cannot be ignored. For more to recommend the German, a scan at his stints leading Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich – clubs with fertile internecine politics – and the simple fact he will be available from June having agreed to leave his current posting at the Allianz Arena. Thomas Tuchel’s reputation for being temperamental may scare off Liverpool, who are also in the market for a new manager, and so United appear to have a golden chance to snap up a serial trophy winner.

- Guardian