Erik ten Hag, the manager of Manchester United, is facing increasing scrutiny from disgruntled fans as the club experiences a disastrous start to the season, raising doubts about their Premier League aspirations.
In a rare occurrence in the Premier League era, Manchester United has suffered three defeats in their opening five matches, casting a shadow over their hopes for Premier League glory. The team now faces a daunting challenge as they prepare to kick off their Champions League campaign with an away fixture against Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
Ten Hag had initially been shielded from criticism during the early weeks of the season as supporters directed their anger towards a series of off-field issues plaguing the club. Despite the fans’ fervent desire to see the Glazer family relinquish ownership of the club, it appears that the process to sell Manchester United has been put on hold.
Further compounding the club’s woes, Brazilian winger Antony has been granted a leave of absence to address domestic abuse allegations brought forth by his ex-girlfriend. Meanwhile, Manchester United made the controversial decision to part ways with 21-year-old Mason Greenwood last month, despite the dropping of abuse charges against him.
Erik ten Hag was lauded for his role in returning Manchester United to the Champions League by securing a third-place finish in the Premier League last season and ending the club’s six-year trophy drought by clinching the League Cup.
However, the tides have turned, and Ten Hag was subjected to a chorus of boos from frustrated fans when he substituted new signing Rasmus Hojlund during the second half of Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to Brighton. In an attempt to spin the moment into a display of support for Hojlund, who was making his home debut after a £64 million ($79 million) move from Atalanta, the Dutch coach emphasized the player’s recent return to fitness, fearing the consequences of overexerting him too soon.
Nevertheless, the success of the 20-year-old Dane in the long run is under scrutiny, particularly if Harry Kane, now playing for Bayern Munich after a high-profile £86 million ($110 million) transfer, continues to shine with four goals in as many starts while Hojlund is yet to find the net for Manchester United.
Adding to Manchester United’s offensive challenges, winger Jadon Sancho has been excluded from first-team action due to a conflict with his manager. Sancho, who was acquired for £73 million from Borussia Dortmund just two years ago, has been instructed to train on his own following his claim that he was a “scapegoat” when Erik ten Hag criticized his subpar performances in training.
Ten Hag’s tough disciplinary approach, which had contributed to his initial success during his first season, has become a point of discussion. Even star players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford did not receive special treatment under his management. While Ten Hag has yet to face significant backlash for his latest stance on Sancho, the pressure has intensified for him to boost morale within the club through improved on-field results.
With Manchester United already trailing local rivals Manchester City by a significant nine points in the Premier League, a strong performance in the Champions League has become paramount to the success or failure of Ten Hag’s second season at the helm.
“It’s about character,” remarked Ten Hag ahead of his return to Munich, where he previously coached Bayern Munich’s B team from 2013 to 2015. “Now we have to see how strong we are, how the team sticks together, and which players exhibit character and leadership to lead the team.”