Erik ten Hag fell out with Cristiano Ronaldo, swapped David De Gea for Andre Onana and has ostracised Jadon Sancho, but amid Man United’s ongoing struggles, is the Dutchman RECKLESS or RUTHLESS?

  • Erik ten Hag has implemented several changes at Man United since taking over
  • But, critics claim that some of the Dutchman’s decisions have been reckless
  • Inside Postecoglou’s Tottenham: IAKO looks at culture and philosophy changes 

In what is frankly a bizarre quirk of the fixture schedule, despite seemingly being a club in constant crisis on and off the pitch, Manchester United are technically the Premier League’s form team.

Although they face an uphill task to qualify from their Champions League group, four wins in five top flight games have seen them rocket up to sixth and leave them just five points off the top four.

But, despite Erik ten Hag’s best efforts, the results have not been matched by performances with United often scraping through games unconvincingly, raising serious questions about their manager’s future.

He also hasn’t been helped by the theatre that seems to follow him and the club around, with Ten Hag falling out with key players at points.

For example, the ongoing exile of Jadon Sancho from the first team, while recent weeks have seen Harry Maguire shine, just a few months after Ten Hag stripped him of the captaincy and attempted to force the defender out of the club. 

Erik ten Hag has made several changes since taking over at Manchester United last summer

Casemiro and Raphael Varane could be the next players to be moved on by the Dutchman

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Meanwhile, Mail Sport reported on Thursday how Raphael Varane and Casemiro could be the next players on Ten Hag’s chopping block, with the pair – who cost United a combined £112million despite being 28 and 30 at the time of their signings – linked with moves away. 

This has led to criticism that Ten Hag is out of depth at Old Trafford and is unable to handle big egos.

In light of that, Mail Sport takes a look at several big decisions the Dutchman has made during his time at the club and questions whether the United manager is reckless or ruthless. 

Cristiano Ronaldo

The Cristiano Ronaldo saga was the first major test of Ten Hag’s tenure and the feeling at the time was that he had got it spot on.

Ronaldo contract was terminated by mutual consent on the eve of the World Cup after a bombshell interview with Piers Morgan when he claimed he didn’t respect Ten Hag, and how he also felt betrayed by United.

It was the one of multiple disciplinary and attitude problems Ronaldo – who triumphantly returned to the club in the summer of 2021 – had displayed, which was ultimately too much for the Dutchman and he showed his decisive side.

His move was backed by the club’s hierarchy and while the World Cup followed which quietened the noise around the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s departure, it did seem to have a positive impact on the squad.  

United went from strength-to-strength during the second half of the campaign and ended up finishing third, while they also won the Carabao Cup. 

This suggests Ten Hag made the correct decision to move on the Portuguese superstar, who also reportedly had strained relationships with several other players.

Verdict: Ruthless 

Ten Hag’s first major decision at the club saw him mutually terminate Cristiano Ronaldo’s deal

Ronaldo faced several disciplinary issues under Ten Hag and claimed he ‘didn’t respect him’

Harry Maguire

Another major saga last season was the future of Harry Maguire. Previously the world’s most expensive defender upon joining, the defender suffered during Ralf Rangnick’s tenure at the club.

Although Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez were Ten Hag’s first choice pairing at centre back, Maguire slipped below Victor Lindelof and even an out-of-position Luke Shaw in the pecking order. 

It seemed unnecessarily harsh how Maguire was being ostracised, particularly as the 30-year-old remained integral for England and performed well at the World Cup, with the defender making just eight league starts.

Harry Maguire fell out of favour under Ten Hag and was pushed to fifth choice centre back 

Despite Ten Hag attempting to force him out, Maguire has fought his way back into the team

This was further evidenced in the summer, when Maguire was stripped of his role as club captain and Ten Hag attempted to force him out of the club, before the defender rejected a move to West Ham.

In recent weeks, Maguire has re-emerged in the middle of a major injury crisis and excelled, putting in strong displays in narrow victories over Fulham, Luton and Sheffield United.

It is testament to the former Blades academy product that he kept grinding away and working hard, and it is completely down to him – rather than Ten Hag – that he has re-emerged in his team.

The Dutchman was overly assertive in attempting to move on someone who has shown time and time again that they can be a top class defender on their day.

Verdict: Reckless 

David De Gea

There was always a sense from the get-go that David De Gea wasn’t quite fancied by Ten Hag.

From the early switch in tactics of passing out from goal kicks to instructing the Spaniard to go long, several mistakes last season only added pressure to the situation surrounding De Gea’s future.

It all came to a head when United attempted to renegotiate the terms of a deal they had offered to the out-of-contract goalkeeper, before De Gea – who remains a free agent – officially departed in July.

Ten Hag’s motivations for this were to improve their build-up play and in Andre Onana, he spent £47.1million on someone who had also just recorded the most clean sheets and saves in the 2022-23 Champions League campaign. 

David De Gea was not fancied by the Dutchman and departed on a free transfer in the summer

While there were reasons for replacing him with Andre Onana, United’s new No 1 has struggled

However, given the Cameroonian’s struggles since moving to Old Trafford, where he has been guilty of several high-profile errors, this decision is yet to come to fruition. 

Costly errors in Champions League defeats to Galatasaray and Bayern Munich put further spotlight on his performances.

As a result, the early suggestions are that while the motivation behind bringing in Onana in place of De Gea was sound, at the moment it is hard to suggest De Gea would have done any worse and that £47.1m could have spent in more pressing areas. 

Verdict: Reckless 

Jadon Sancho

After two summers of chasing the then-Borussia Dortmund forward, United finally got their man in 2021 when they signed Jadon Sancho for £73m.

But 12 goals and just six assists in 82 appearances later and that has not looked like a wise investment.

His struggles came to a head in the aftermath of United’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal in September – when after being accused him of not training well enough as an explanation for Sancho not even making the bench – the 23-year-old hit back on social media and claimed his manager was lying. 

Discipline is a crucial part to any successful team, and while Sancho was reportedly guilty of previous indiscretions and calling your manager a liar in public is never a good look, there are caveats.

Ten Hag had lambasted Sancho to the world by bringing it up in his post-match press conference and the winger was effectively fighting his case back.

Jadon Sancho has been exiled from United’s squad ever since falling out with Ten Hag

The £73m signing refused to apologise and is training away from the first team on his own

He probably should have apologised at their subsequent showdown or in the time that he continues to train away from the first team, but given United’s struggles, it’s not exactly as if their attackers are firing. 

United’s wide players – Antony, Marcus Rashford, Alejandro Garnacho and Facundo Pellistri – have a combined one league goal between them this season which only increases the pressure on Sancho’s continued omission.

While both parties are responsible here, could Ten Hag have shown a bit more understanding and instead focused on finding away to get the best out of a player who was once seen as one of the hottest prospects around Europe?

Verdict: Reckless 


With Sir Jim Ratcliffe impending deal to take control of the footballing matters at Old Trafford amid his 25 per cent takeover of the club, Mail Sport reported how questions have been raised about handing Casemiro a four-year contract worth £350,000-per-week when he joined last summer despite being 30.

After an impressive debut campaign, Casemiro has looked short of form and fitness at the start of this season, and is out until after Christmas with a hamstring injury. 

The Brazilian has been linked with a move to Saudi Arabia in January with Ten Hag open to moving him on. Even if he stays, his future is likely to be up for discussion in the summer.

While it’s not a great look to move a £70m signing on just over a year after bringing him in, it must be noted that United only made a late move for Casemiro, with Frenkie de Jong Ten Hag’s first choice. 

The 31-year-old looks to be in decline and is one of United’s highest earners, so therefore if a Saudi Pro League club comes in with a substantial offer, it would make sense to sell.

With United’s ongoing constraints with FFP, Ten Hag could boost the club’s coffers and create room to reinvest the Brazilian’s chunky wages back into other key areas of the squad, or perhaps on getting a younger, more energetic midfielder.

Verdict: Ruthless 

Ten Hag is reportedly open to moving on Casemiro in January, with interest from Saudi Arabia

Raphael Varane

Another player potentially on the move in January is Raphael Varane, with Mail Sport reporting how Bayern Munich have expressed an interest in signing him in a £25m deal.

The Frenchman – who has played just 18 minutes in the Premier League since September – has fallen out of favour with Ten Hag such that their relationship has practically broken down. 

A frank exchange of views is believed to have taken place after Varane was dropped for the Manchester derby last month, and the Frenchman has only made three substitute appearances since.

The 30-year-old is said to be unhappy that Jonny Evans has been chosen ahead of him, and Victor Lindelof was then selected to play alongside Harry Maguire against Luton two weeks ago when Evans was injured. 

Again, while Varane’s days as one of the best centre backs on the continent with Real Madrid and France may be behind him, he is still only 30 and showed last season that when he is injury free, he can be one of the best defenders in the league.

Similarly, when United gave him a four-year deal at the age of 28, they knew he would be at the club heading into his thirties, when defenders are often at their peak.

Varane could also be on the move in the winter after falling down the pecking order at United

It does seem harsh from Ten Hag, with the Frenchman a top quality defender when in form

It seems strange from Ten Hag, particularly given he has preferred Jonny Evans who, while a solid Premier League defender over the past few decades, is now 35 and was relegated with Leicester last season. 

Given his previous problems with other defenders such as Maguire, and Lindelof sometimes dropping down the pecking order, it feels all quite sudden and again raises the question over whether Ten Hag is too harsh a disciplinarian. 

Verdict: Reckless 

Overall, there is no doubting Ten Hag is desperate to return United to better times and each move has solid reasoning behind it.

Whether this be an attempt to implement strict order at the club, see Sancho, or develop an improved playing style, see De Gea.

However, it feels as it his attempts to be ruthless are increasingly becoming reckless, which includes the spending of £60m on the as-of-yet ineffective Mason Mount, which in turn is hurting his progress.

The club is in desperate need of some stability on the field with the constant noise it suffers, yet there is a lack of consistency in selection, not helped by an injury crisis.

What is not in doubt however, is Ten Hag’s commitment to follow his own vision and the full backing he enjoys from the club in implementing that. 


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