Five big issues facing new Manchester United manager Erik Ten Hag

Dutchman will have his hands full trying to right the listing United ship

The big and loaded question: can the manager actually wield enough influence over the beast that is Manchester United to do it his way? This is a chicken-egg conundrum because winning games and trophies convinces players and the executive but conviction is required from players and the executive for the manager to have his decisions backed and to be a winning No 1.

Then there is the club's particular Byzantine brew of politics and peccadilloes. At United, Richard Arnold is the chief executive but the real power lies across the Atlantic – the six Glazer siblings who own United and reside in Florida.

Joel Glazer may be the day-to-day, hands-on chief of the owners but any major decision has to be signed off by Avram, Darcie, Kevin, Bryan and Edward, who are also directors.

This vote-by-committee via a five-hour, stateside time lag is hardly slick and streamlined, particularly when the depth of the owners’ collective football knowledge is unclear.


Then there is Erik ten Hag's main point of contact: John Murtough, the football director, who is a year into his role. Can Murtough be the Txiki Begiristain (Manchester City's seriously astute sporting director) to the Dutchman's (hopeful) Pep Guardiola?

Cristiano Ronaldo
At 37 years old, there is no way the Portuguese forward can remain an automatic choice if Ten Hag is going to build a team. The question is whether Ronaldo can be let go – not whether he should. A £490,000-a-week salary means there may be zero takers but if a loan can be struck – Paris Saint-Germain, if Kylian Mbappé goes to Real Madrid, maybe? – the Ronaldo problem may be solved.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s major error was to agree to the signing: the money siphoned off for a two-year contract – about £50 million – could have been invested elsewhere and a squad that was supposed to be young, progressive and fleet-footed would not have been hampered by a footballer who is no longer any of these and is not conducive to long-term success.

Team structure
If Bruno Fernandes feels the need to blaze around Goodison Park to try to jump-start the side – as he did in the dire 1-0 loss to Everton – the team are no team. As alarming, too, is how he was waved on to do this: Ralf Rangnick made no move to stop the midfielder and it was not the first time under the interim manager. This shows up United's lack of structure, shape, plan, ethos and identity. Rangnick arrived with a "godfather of gegenpressing" ticket and close to none of the strategy has been seen.

City and Liverpool are so successful because Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp know precisely how they want their sides to operate and have had time to execute this.

Solskjær was given close to three years but never truly moved beyond a one-dimensional, counterattacking mode – a contributing factor to his sacking. Ten Hag's Ajax have a defined way of playing – pass and move plus pressing. So, surely, the Dutchman will apply this. Put another way: he has to.

Harry Maguire and Raphaël Varane
Two centre-backs, two problems. Harry Maguire is not as poor as some portrayals but is not good enough to warrant his undroppable status. Raphaël Varane maybe deserves more time to prove he belongs in a different file to the captain. The Frenchman arrived last summer and a thought was that the World Cup winner might help improve Maguire, who most impresses in a back three for England.

Ten Hag operates a 4-3-3: bad news for Maguire, who is slow and whose touch and decision-making under fire are suspect. Varane has also been sluggish, lacks desire and can be barged aside.

Time for a reboot for him this summer: he must work hard on physicality and game-reading and try to increase his sprint speed. But whether Varane can become the defender of (former) repute is unclear. Real Madrid did, after all, allow his sale. The reason for this may already have been seen.

Midfield and centre-forward
As perennial as United's lack of titles and farcical manager recruitment (the post-Alex Ferguson score: permanent appointments 5, interims 4) is a dysfunctional transfer policy with top billing going to how no one at the club can seem to identify and sign a star schemer.

This means a footballer who runs a match, much as Kevin De Bruyne or Declan Rice do. Or stop the opposition and ignite attacks – think Fernandinho or N'Golo Kanté. Can the new man pull off a trick that really should not be that hard? Two midfielders on this plane would be great, one a certifiable boon.

City have De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Rodri, Fernandinho, Ilkay Gündogan and Phil Foden: a raft of A-listers. United have two B-acts in Scott McTominay and Fred, the veteran Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba, who will surely leave and has not been value for a then British record transfer fee of £93.2 million.

Also, Ten Hag needs a No 9. Ronaldo will be a season older and, surely, not part of the long-term vision, Edinson Cavani will leave, Mason Greenwood is suspended and Marcus Rashford is enduring a lost season.

Acquiring a prolific centre-forward is of the same order as Ten Hag’s midfielder search: one of the copious rabbits he has to pull from the hat to make United a contender again.

Welcome, Erik, to your new job. – Guardian