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Ten Hag's power will only diminish from this point, it's why he must be decisive

Time is already against the new Manchester United manager if he is to be successful at Old Trafford, but so much is still out of his hands.

The lights could quickly go out for Erik ten Hag.
The lights could quickly go out for Erik ten Hag.
Image: DPA/PA Images

THE QUESTION POSED to John Giles on yesterday’s Off the Ball was a simple one.

Manchester United had confirmed Erik ten Hag as their new manager a few hours earlier and, given the depth of the problems and malaise, the best place to start was clearly the most obvious place to start.

“What should be his main priority?” Giles was asked by presenter Richie McCormack.

Cue a considered, reasoned response.

“He’s got to show the players in his approach, his attitude and his personality that ‘I’m in charge of this situation now and I’m going to do the best I can for this club, that this is going to take a little bit of time because I’m here to judge everybody on their merits and I’ve got to make up my mind, get to know the place, and my best team, as soon as I possibly can’,” Giles began.

“Whether he says that to the players or not, what he says to the players in the first meeting is not going to be that important. It’s what he’s thinking and what he has to do to judge these players and get to know them on the field, what they can do and what they can’t do.

“The good lads, the chancers, all that. That will take him a fair bit of time to do that. But the approach he’s got to take, keep it simple, ‘I’m here to do a job, I’m going to do it and I’m going to do it as best I can, and this is what I expect from you. I’m going to give everybody a chance, watch everything, and in time I will make up my mind who is going to stay and who is going to go’.”

pep-guardiola-and-erik-ten-hag Pep Guardiola (left) with Erik ten Hag during their time at Bayern Munich. Source: Imago/PA Images

That is probably not what a lot of United fans wanted to hear about a group of players that have had numerous opportunities under various managers and, when it mattered, showed only one consistent – sabotage and a propensity to wilt.

What Ten Hag does first, and how quickly he does it, matters because if recent history at Old Trafford is anything to go by, now will be the point at which he has the most power to assert his authority.

It will only diminish from here.

Jurgen Klopp did it at Liverpool ahead of his first full season having taken charge in October 2015. The German assessed what was at his disposal and cleaned house promptly – ably supported by a structure above him, notably sporting director Michael Edwards, that facilitated such decisive action.

Eleven players departed, among them Christian Benteke (signed only a year previously for £32.5m), Mario Balotelli, Joe Allen, Jose Enrique, Martin Skrtel, Kolo Toure and, interestingly, Jordon Ibe.

The teenager had been seen as a starlet of the club’s academy but Klopp was happy to let him leave for Bournemouth in a £15m deal having worked with him close up for half a season.

Ten Hag won’t have that same eight-month buffer zone in which to assess matters, he needs to make quick decisions because unless he can somehow deliver instant results, belief and trust in his methods (and authority) will quickly be eroded within a hierarchy that is weak.

It is the reason the same culture exists within the dressing room.

To believe that the last decade of wastefulness and panic has led to a shift in thinking among those in the pay grade above the Dutchman is naïve.

Ed Woodward is no more but his replacement as highest-ranking executive, Richard Arnold, is cut from a similar cloth – one which is Glazer approved. Crucially, all decisions still requires chairman Joel Glazer’s approval, another reason for the stagnation.

A three-year contract for Ten Hag does not scream long-term faith and a willingness to persevere with a new vision.

britain-soccer-premier-league Marcus Rashford could be an interesting case study. Source: Jon Super

He may wish to act decisively but unless newly-appointed football director John Murtough – who headed the manager’s recruitment process – and technical director Darren Fletcher are capable of carrying out his orders then such plans for rejuvenation will be redundant.

Five players are out of contract this summer and almost certain to depart.

Nemanja Matic has already confirmed he will not exercise his option for a further year while Paul Pogba has been angling for a move away longer than the most patient trout fisherman.

Edinson Cavani appears to have checked out long ago, his last appearance coming before St Patrick’s Day, and Jesse Lingard may well find the solace he so craves in the bosom of West Ham, having posted more pictures on social media of his brief time there last season than appearances for United this term.

Then there is Juan Mata, the most affable and commendable of people but whose situation beggars belief, and sums up the dysfunction of the decision-makers.

The 33-year-old was a peripheral figure in 2020/21 yet was given a 12-month extension on a reported £5 million salary – minus his admirable Common Goal contribution. Since then, the veteran started just one game, a League Cup defeat to West Ham in September, and made seven appearances totalling 146 minutes of action.

This is the kind of ineptitude Ten Hag is walking into.

There are further contractual issues – or opportunities – on the horizon.

Marcus Rashford, Fred, Diogo Dalot, Luke Shaw, David de Gea and Phil Jones are all entering the final year of their deals.

The instance of Rashford, perhaps the most valuable asset of those mentioned above, could set the tone for what is to come. Does Ten Hag persevere with a player whose demeanour on the pitch over the last two years would suggest it is a lost cause to believe he can rediscover the kind of form which excited previously, or demand early that he is sold this summer in order to fund the arrival of someone capable of being trusted to carry out the manager’s instructions.

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Time is most definitely on the essence there.

manchester-united-v-tottenham-hotspur-premier-league-old-trafford United technical director Darren Fletcher. Source: PA

Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles, Aaron Wan Bissaka and Anthony Martial are due up in 2024 (Cristiano Ronaldo also has an option to take him to that point too) while the year after that will be the conclusion of Scott McTominay, Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire’s contracts.

So, Giles is right that Ten Hag must show he has authority from day one.

But the United boss must use that power quickly because it will soon dissipate. That’s when the same old problems will resurface and he will find himself mired in the battles which his predecessors have been unable to overcome.

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