The tactical ploy which saw Erik ten Hag keep his Manchester United job

The Dutchman’s willingness to use a false nine in the FA Cup final reassured Jim Ratcliffe

Erik ten Hag is to remain as Manchester United manager following a performance review. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA wire

Erik ten Hag’s willingness to accept Jason Wilcox’s tactical suggestion that he use Bruno Fernandes as a false nine in Manchester United’s FA Cup triumph against Manchester City was a key factor in the Dutchman being retained as manager.

While it was Ten Hag’s call, his decision impressed Jim Ratcliffe as evidence he can work within the minority owner’s new football structure.

Fernandes played a vital role in Kobbie Mainoo’s winner at Wembley, his break from the withdrawn position allowing him to make the assist for the 39th-minute strike.

Wilcox was appointed as United’s technical director in April and is charged with creating an overarching vision of play for the team. Fernandes had operated as false nine in the last two Premier League matches of the season, the victories over Newcastle and Brighton, for which the regular centre-forward, Rasmus Højlund, was dropped.


As Ten Hag considered his tactics for the FA Cup final, with reinstating Højlund an option, he decided that the best approach was the suggestion of Wilcox, a former City academy director, that Pep Guardiola’s possession-based game could be countered by the false nine system.

This proved correct as United’s victory over the Premier League champions was arguably the finest display of Ten Hag’s two years in charge. Having also adopted the tactic for the wins against Newcastle and Brighton, the manager’s ability to be flexible earned the admiration of Ratcliffe, Wilcox and the Ineos-owner’s key lieutenant, Dave Brailsford.

As Dan Ashworth, who Ratcliffe appointed as sporting director, remains on gardening leave, Wilcox will lead transfer recruitment in the summer window which opens on Friday, and he will work closely with Ten Hag on improving United’s squad.

On Tuesday, Ratcliffe, who controls United’s football operation, ended his review of last season by concluding that Ten Hag should continue in his job. The 54-year-old is now negotiating a new contract with the club, having a year left on his current terms. – Guardian