Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has come under intense fire from journalist Martin Samuel over his inability to play out from the back and his perceived acceptance of long-ball football.
The “On-the-hoof” approach is all on the Dutch coach and not the Man United players according to The Times article.
The writer takes umbrage at the fact that the Dutch coach has claimed that his current Old Trafford side are not capable of playing the same style as he employed during his time at Ajax.
Everyone will remember Ajax’s swashbuckling Champions League campaign in the 2018/2019 season where the Dutch giants stunned the football world with a series of impressive results, most notably a 4-1 win in the Bernabeu, to reach the Champions League semifinal.
They would go on to lose that tie against Tottenham Hotspur by the narrowest of margins but they had already won the hearts of many with their attractive style.
Consequently, United fans were gleeful when the Dutch tactician was announced as the new manager of the Red Devils in the spring of 2022.
While it must be said that the previous season was judged as a relative success due to the club winning the Carabao Cup, reaching the final of the FA Cup and finishing third in the league, this season has been an unmitigated disaster with many aspects of the team and overall club structure coming under pressure. However, Martin Samuel’s sharpened pen is squarely aimed at the Dutch coach.
The Times journalist asserts that it is nonsense that this current group of internationals cannot play the way the manager wants them to.
He firstly highlights that this current group at United are certainly no worse than the Ajax team of 2019. To back up his point, Samuel affirms “United are not a good team, but they aren’t as bad as this.”
He also claims that some of those former players are now plying their trade at teams such as Las Palmas, Galatasaray and Nijmegan.
Of those 15 Ajax players who played against Spurs in the semi-final, only six currently play in the Champions League, one of which is Andre Onana, the current United keeper.
The British columnist goes on to state that the long-term absentees of Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martinez are not sufficient excuses for the abandonment of playing out from the back.
The article makes a comparison between Liverpool in 2020/21 when they lost most of their backline to injury but according to the writer, did not lose Jurgen Klopp’s style. There is also a claim that despite who plays for Manchester City, they do not lose their identity either.
The final major point of contention Samuel has with the current United set up is the fact that the team comprises of so many internationals.
He points to the fact that there were 628 international caps on the field for the Old Trafford side against City last weekend. The columnist argues that none of Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire or Andre Onana are required to hoof the ball down field for their national team, so why at United?
The case of Andre Onana is an interesting example. The Cameroonian goalkeeper famously fell out with his coach in the 2022 World Cup because of the fact he had concerns about the tactics and long ball style he was being asked to play. Samuel is keen to point out the irony that the African keeper is now being asked to play the same way at club level.
Whatever the truth of Samuel’s article, what is a fact is that business cannot go on as normal at the club. The style of football is confusing and while Samuel’s opinion is a tad over exaggerated at times about the long ball style, it is clear that Ten Hag’s methods are not getting the club positive results. And results is what will save Ten Hag’s job.