For years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, fans have pointed their fingers at multiple things as reasons behind Manchester United’s failures.
When David Moyes was sacked, the blame lay on the Scot’s door, that he wasn’t good enough. However, then it started happening far too often. Surely, not every manager who came to Old Trafford was bad?
Sure enough, the blame started shifting to the board.
They had just one ambition- to reach the Champions League by getting a top-four spot in the league and get comfortable.
Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, David Moyes, and even interim managers like Ralf Rangnick have alluded to the fact that the board didn’t back them, or take their suggestions into account when deciding player futures.
The fans had their answer. How can a manager be expected to succeed with a team that isn’t even of his own making?
Consequently, Erik ten Hag arrived last year and reportedly, one of the promises he was made was that he would have the full backing of the board.
It has been true too, with the Cristiano Ronaldo decision being one of the biggest markers of the authority of the manager. Pretty much every target of his has been delivered barring Frenkie de Jong.
Even for De Jong, the fee was agreed with FC Barcelona but the player said no.
However, with time, United look to have lurched from one extreme to another.
From signing Fred, Diogo Dalot, and Lee Grant for Jose Mourinho after he delivered United their best-ever finish after Sir Alex, to chasing Marko Arnautovic, signing Wout Weghorst, and Antony for £85 million, the club’s strategy has tilted too far on the other side.
From the outside looking in, it seems like Ten Hag is the one and only at the club when it comes to making transfer decisions. The majority of the players signed under him have either played under him before, played well against him earlier, or have come through his references. Nicolas Tagliafico is the latest one to be linked after Luke Shaw’s injury.
Just like not backing the manager sets a club on the road to failure, complete dependency on the man in the dugout is a one-way street to failure as well.
Here’s why United’s transfer strategy under Ten Hag is doomed to fail-
Creates cliques in the dressing room
In the current side, there are clear Ten Hag favourites who are afforded a longer leash for bad performances than others. Antony is the latest example of the phenomenon, he has been trusted with the first-choice spot despite underwhelming performances.
In the past, Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro, and Eriksen have been run into the ground as Ten Hag felt he couldn’t rotate his trusted players.
In the same vein, Mason Mount’s injury is actually a blessing in disguise for United as it saves Ten Hag from himself.
At some point, players who are not on the favoured list will begin to question what it will take for them to break through. Facundo Pellistri must be wondering the same right now.
If the results falter with the favourites in the lineup, it is a human tendency that cliques will form in the dressing room, a death knell for any coach.
Back to square one later
The scariest prospect that arises due to extreme dependency on the manager is what happens once the man in the dugout leaves.
All these players have effectively been brought by Ten Hag. There is no vision by the club as to what they want to be on the pitch.
Therefore, as soon as the manager leaves, it is extremely likely that the new manager won’t fancy half the recruits under Ten Hag. It would leave United back at square one- needing to cull the squad to make for new manager’s recruits.
Thus, it will begin another round of extravagant, and clueless spending as previous transfers will become cast-offs.
Clubs are built on a long-term vision, the manager is the one who executes it.
The manager cannot be the vision.
Huge financial losses
Buying new players to fit the manager’s vision is one thing, but the culling of the squad will be a painful procedure as well. As United have already experienced, selling players is arguably more difficult than buying them.
That is because nobody values the player as high as the club buying them. Antony wouldn’t be worth £85 million to any team in the world barring Erik ten Hag’s United. The same is the case for Mason Mount, or even Casemiro and Rasmus Hojlund.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s top defensive target was Harry Maguire who now wants to be paid to leave the club. Jose Mourinho pushed for Eric Bailly who the club wants to let go for free now.
David Moyes went the Ten Hag way of buying the tried-and-tested and a few years later, Marouane Fellaini was playing in China.
The reality is that many manager-driven targets have a shelf life of as long as the manager who bought them remains at the club.
That should be a scary thought for United, who have bought manager-driven targets almost exclusively in the last year. Chelsea chop and change managers with frightening regularity, but the players, at least under Abramovich, were always bought under a vision. It enabled them to make huge profits on sale, an idea pretty much foreign to United.
That will continue as long as United continue to make Ten Hag their Chief Scout in addition to the Head Coach.