Manchester United reportedly have a group of players who already doubt Erik ten Hag. If that is the case, they need to be sent packing this summer.
The Times newspaper reported that players at Old Trafford already have concerns that the incoming Dutch manager does not have the strength to overcome and tackle the problems looming at the club. There are, of course, many of those.
Paul Pogba is perhaps Manchester United’s most technically talented player, the man who has the most ability to change games, but it is has not worked out for him at the club, a mixture of United’s disorganisation and instability, and the Frenchman’s failure to show why he remains held in high regard by so many non-United fans.
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There is no point rehashing the argument, nobody is going to change their mind at this point.
What is worth considering is that Pogba leads a group of players that could extend to Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Nemanja Matic, Eric Bailly, Lee Grant, Juan Mata and Dean Henderson. That is a short list, probably.
There are perhaps only a couple of players who are safe from the chop this summer: David de Gea, Raphael Varane, Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho. Everyone will have their price.
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There are difficulties to be overcome on the pitch too. Harry Maguire’s alarming collapse is a symptom of a wider decline in the players’ ability to think for themselves, to keep standards high, and to lead by example. You can absolutely have sympathy for the situation the England central defender finds himself in, but there is no denying he has no place in either his national or club team going by form alone. Ten Hag faces some task.
But there is a constant thread running through United’s failures since the retirement of Alex Ferguson. Yes, the club have alternately refused to spend for a manager one transfer window, and then delivered players they have not asked for the next. The move from recalcitrance to thoughtless largesse and then back again, has delivered little value and plenty of difficulty for whichever manager they happen to be messing about at the time. That, however, is not the rot that the Ajax man will have to confront first.
Reports suggest that he is insisting on veto power when it comes to signing players, and he appears to be winning the battle to appoint Steve McClaren as one of his assistant managers despite internal reluctance. The most awkward problem to resolve is those that will remain once transfers out of the club have been arranged.
From David Moyes, to Louis van Gaal and then Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, one repeated transgression from players is leaks to the press. They carp and moan about their various concerns, but never seem to justify their dissatisfaction by proving their worth on the pitch. Indeed, they might often be correct - United is clearly dysfunctional, but it remains to be seen what the benefit is of telling newspapers of factional disputes.
Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho failed to see eye-to-eye at Manchester United.
Image credit: Getty Images
This is the rub. Yes, United are, to put it in sophisticated terms, rubbish. The players know that, Rangnick will have become aware after a week or two, and the fans have had it proven to them for the best part of a decade. But if players want to have excuses, then they can't be kept any longer. The best athletes are those who do not consider themselves as beaten even when they are 5-0 down. They are less concerned by the problems in their way than the methods they will devise to get over or around them.
When Ten Hag instals himself this summer, he will already be guaranteed to wave away five or six of his first team squad. Those who remain might have plenty of talent, they might even have won trophies before they arrived at the club. They might be popular or commercially important, but if their first instinct is to dial up a hack at a red top when things go wrong, rather than redouble their efforts, he will have to cut them loose as soon as he possibly can. The players are right - United are almost certainly doomed to repeat their missteps. But they need players who don’t approach near-certain failure with realism, but with an undimmed and undimmable belief that they are on course for victory.
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