Ten Hag: 'I wouldn't bring him in because we are 4-0 down out of respect for Cristiano'

Manchester United manager explains why Portugal legend didn’t play as Roy Keane says club should have let him leave in summer.

United boss Erik ten Hag.
United boss Erik ten Hag.
Image: PA

Updated Oct 2nd 2022, 8:14 PM

ERIK TEN HAG admitted he left Cristiano Ronaldo on the Manchester United bench throughout the 6-3 humiliation by Manchester City as a mark of respect.

The Old Trafford boss blamed a lack of belief for his side’s hammering and, despite making all five subs, the Portugal great remained an unused substitute.

“I wouldn’t bring him in because we are 4-0 down out of respect for Cristiano, for his big career,” Ten Hag said.

“And the other thing, there was then the advantage I could bring Antony Martial (on). He needs the minutes but I don’t want to point it out like that.”

Former United captain Roy Keane insisted the club have let Ronaldo down and shown “disrespect” since not allowing him to leave in the summer.

“I think Man United are just showing disrespect to Ronaldo. He should have been allowed to go before the transfer window. The manager holding onto him, OK you need options, but you don’t hold onto to Ronaldo to sit on the bench. He’s one of the greatest players ever,” he said on Sky Sports.

“He had options [to leave]. This idea that he had no options, he did have options, four or five very good options… I know that for a fact. The manager, he’s not going to play Ronaldo. It’s just going to get uglier as the season goes on.

“OK, he (Ronaldo) is motivated with World up coming up but if he’s sitting on the bench week in week our it’s just going to get uglier. I think United have shown nothing but disrespect to Ronaldo and they should have let him go when the opportunity came.

“Holding onto him to sit on the bench is ridiculous.”

Ten Hag, however, blamed a lack of belief for United’s “hammering” in the derby day demolishment at City.

Having bounced back from alarming defeats to Brighton and Brentford with four successive Premier League wins, the Red Devils were brought down to earth with a bump at the Etihad Stadium.

Erling Haaland and Phil Foden both scored hat-trick as City ran amok in the highest scoring Manchester derby.

Substitute Anthony Martial’s brace complemented a superb second-half strike from summer signing Antony for United, but a number of fed up visiting fans had already headed for the exits by that point.

“I also told the players (it was a) lack of belief,” manager Ten Hag said. “I’ve seen some highlights. It was obvious that we are defending not (on the) front foot, we let them play.

We were, in possession, not brave enough, made technical skills mistakes, decision mistakes and then you get hammered.”

Put to the Dutchman that professional footballers should already have belief, he said: “I think often it’s the other way around.

“So, for instance, in the last five games we bring that attitude on the pitch. We have a strong belief and convincement, we bring opponents problems.

“Today it was the other way around but I think it’s normal in our process that the pattern has to go up and I think I see clearly it goes up.

“But you will have setbacks during that process and we have to learn from it but point it clearly out. We can walk away from it but if we do it we will not get the solution.

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manchester-city-v-manchester-united-premier-league-etihad-stadium Ronaldo (left) was an unused substitute. Source: PA

“We will be very clear and then we have to move on. We will carry on to the next game.”

Ten Hag says United players have to accept that criticism and produce team performances akin to those shown in the victories against Liverpool and Arsenal.

The Dutchman acknowledged that the fact they had not played a league game since winning the latter 28 days ago had an effect but said that was no excuse “when you don’t bring the right performance”.

Instead, Ten Hag underlined that the lack of belief undid their rules and principles at the Etihad Stadium, where the meek loss will not lead to the kind of punishment he dished out after the humiliating loss at Brentford.

The punishment had a reason – they outrun us so we didn’t work hard enough,” said Ten Hag, who made his players run 13.8km the day after that defeat – the distance the Bees had collectively outran them by.

“Today is also mental but it’s a different mental issue, it’s like belief. It’s not always about punishment.

“Of course, we have to criticise, we have to criticise each other, so I didn’t get the message right to the players quite clearly to get the belief on the pitch and from then on we didn’t play our game, our way of playing.

“That’s disappointing but it’s good it happens against City. But then you get quite clear what the problems are when you don’t bring it.”

United return to Premier League action at Everton next Sunday, having travelled to Cyprus for Thursday’s Europa League clash against Omonia Nicosia.

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