Erik Ten Hag: Why is he the Man United manager everyone loves to hate?

The Red Devils’ search for perfect successor to Sir Alex Ferguson continues with eight coaches in 11 years

Erik Ten Hag: not a 'star manager'?
Erik Ten Hag: not a 'star manager'?

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Who has been Manchester United’s most hated manager in the last decade or so? Ever since the mighty Sir Alex Ferguson walked away in 2013 after 26 glorious years, the Red Devils have ushered in eight coaches in 11 years — with tenures ranging from more than two years, like a larger-than-life Jose Mourinho or Erik ten Hag, to even a month (former stars like Ryan Giggs or Michael Carrick). 

However, none seemed to have generated the kind of angst among fans and former players-turned-TV pundits alike as Dutchman Ten Hag, something which has boiled over with their 4-0 rout to lowly Crystal Palace in their last game.

"I’ve said for a long time that Ten Hag is not the right man for this job, I’ve been saying it for ages and ages," former Man U and England striker Michael Owen fumed. "He cannot, simply cannot, manage the team next season." 

Owen, of course, is not alone in this. The 13-time Premier League winners, who find themselves in eighth position in the league now and could be headed for their lowest finish ever until things improve dramatically in the last three games, have turned into a pale shadow of themselves.

The last premiership crown came in Sir Alex’s farewell year, but ever since then, the team has been struggling to play catch-up with forces like neighbours Manchester City, Chelsea, and a resurgent Liverpool. 

What is it about Ten Hag, the former Ajax coach with sound credentials, that has antagonised people the most? Just ponder this: his win percentage at 58.3 per cent from 115 games as of 1 May 2024 is only two places behind Sir Alex (59.7 per cent in 1,500 games), Mourinho (58.3 in 144 games) in the post-war era, while the team had also broken free of its six-year trophy drought with a league cup last year. 

However, the free-flowing United school of football seems to be a thing of the past under him, while his not-so-hidden role in engineering the departure of the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo in end-2022, and the recent dropping of the enigmatic Jadon Sancho against Arsenal on account of so called ‘poor form’ have raised valid questions about Ten Hag’s ability to manage stars. It’s the X-factor that a successful coach needs, and a lot of it stems from how much respect they command from the big players.

Ten Hag may fashion himself as the strong, silent type as a coach, but his complicity in Ronaldo’s departure had been arguably the most shocking development in the club’s recent history.

In an exclusive interview to journalist Piers Morgan, CR7 had claimed that the United team management were attempting to throw him out of the club. “Yes, not only the coach, but another two or three guys around the club. I felt betrayed,” the Portuguese superstar had said. Ronaldo’s bombshell comments came after Ten Hag expelled the star striker from a training session, even excluding him from the squad for a match against Chelsea.

Sure, the management sees some virtue in the hard taskmaster image that Ten Hag has been able to cultivate for himself, but the question is, for how long? For the legion of United fans, it has become a pity to see their favourite club now play second fiddle to the new order, despite the odd flashes of brilliance here and there. Their patience is certainly beginning to run out!