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OLIVER HOLT: Erik ten Hag would have to be better than Fergie to turn Manchester United around

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In other circumstances, there would be much excitement about the idea of Erik ten Hag arriving as the new manager of Manchester United. 

He is the fresh start United fans have been craving, a man widely admired for his football philosophy, for the stellar job he has done at Ajax over the last four years, for the style with which his teams play and for his man-management.

He is not part of the tired establishment. He is not young but he is not a man on the downslope of his career. He is not old and cynical and looking for a last payday. He is not living on a reputation built on deeds done long ago. 

He is not a man who has fallen out of love with the game and modern players. He is not a man who will live in a suite at The Lowry Hotel and flit back and forth to London.

People who know him, and who have worked with him, speak well of him. ‘His great strength lies not just in his attention to detail and organisation,’ said former England manager Steve McClaren, who was once ten Hag’s boss at FC Twente, in a recent interview. 

‘He has a clear philosophy of how he wants to play football; the environment he wants to create. Erik is very disciplined and people have to buy into that and have that work ethic.’

The problem with Ajax boss Erik ten Hag (pictured) becoming the new Manchester United manager is not Erik ten Hag - the problem is Manchester United, a highly dysfunctional club

The problem with Ajax boss Erik ten Hag (pictured) becoming the new Manchester United manager is not Erik ten Hag – the problem is Manchester United, a highly dysfunctional club

Sure, there are others who have higher profiles and have managed bigger clubs, like Mauricio Pochettino. And there are those who might command more immediate respect from big-name players, like Antonio Conte. But ten Hag carries the air of someone who is ready for his close-up, ready for his shot at the big time.

The problem with Erik ten Hag becoming the new Manchester United manager, then, is not Erik ten Hag. The problem is Manchester United. 

He might not realise the extent of this yet — although watching United’s abject performance in their defeat by Everton on Saturday would have helped — but ten Hag is a highly functioning manager who appears to be about to be parachuted into a highly dysfunctional club.

So the fear is that even though ten Hag might be right for Manchester United, Manchester United might not be right for him. 

At Ajax, ten Hag is supported by a clear hierarchy with well-regarded and able executives such as Edwin van der Sar and, until his recent fall, Marc Overmars. At United, ten Hag will be pitched into football’s equivalent of a black hole. 

Here’s the sobering thing: ten Hag will have to be better than Sir Alex Ferguson to succeed at Old Trafford. 

The American Glazer family (Avram, left, and Joel, right) own the club and drive absurd, short-term commercial decisions like the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo - ten Hag cannot change that

The American Glazer family (Avram, left, and Joel, right) own the club and drive absurd, short-term commercial decisions like the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo – ten Hag cannot change that

United supporters are largely in agreement in wanting the Glazers to sell up and leave the club

United supporters are largely in agreement in wanting the Glazers to sell up and leave the club

If he is confirmed as boss, he would inherit a club with as many problems as United had when Ferguson took over, a club where a culture of entitlement and complacency has taken hold among the players, a club whose identity is ‘a commercial club’, as Louis van Gaal pointed out recently, not a football club.

He would also inherit a club light years behind Manchester City and Liverpool. Things change and maybe Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp will move on in the next couple of years and their clubs’ current excellence will suffer because of that.

But even if that happens and City and Liverpool wither, United are not even the best-placed team to take advantage. Arsenal are a far better example of a club whose rebuilding job actually appears to be taking shape.

United are rotting from the head down and however good ten Hag is, he will not be able to change the fact that the Glazer family own the club and drive absurd, short-term commercial decisions like the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. 

He will not be able to change the fact that the chain of command at Old Trafford is desperately confused. Who does he answer to? Ralf Rangnick, the current boss, who may only be working six days a month in his consultancy role? 

John Murtough, United’s director of football? Darren Fletcher, United’s highly regarded technical director? Or Richard Arnold, the newly installed chief executive, who has been known to measure the success of club signings on whether they trend on Twitter?

United's misfiring players lost 1-0 against relegation-threatened Everton on Saturday

United’s misfiring players lost 1-0 against relegation-threatened Everton on Saturday 

Ten Hag would have to be better than legendary former boss Sir Alex Ferguson to succeed

Ten Hag would have to be better than legendary former boss Sir Alex Ferguson to succeed

Draw a diagram of the club hierarchy and it looks about as clear as the family tree of England’s ruling family during the Wars of the Roses. 

How is ten Hag supposed to cut through all that while trying to rebuild a club who appear to have settled for signing big names above winning the big titles? 

It is not an impossible job, but the way it is set up at the moment, it is close. Go back to McClaren’s point about players having to buy into ten Hag’s work ethic. Have you seen United play recently? If you have, the alarm bells will be ringing. Really loudly. 

‘Work ethic’ and ‘Manchester United players’ do not go together. Watch City and Liverpool and the thing that shines through is how hard they work, off the ball in particular. For a long time now, United’s players have not got anywhere near that level of effort.

Paul Pogba is one of the best players in the world. But not when he plays for United. Ronaldo was one of the best players in the world. But not any more. Try getting him to work for the team. 

Even some of the younger players at United — Mason Greenwood, before his exile, is a prime example — seem to think the really hard graft is for others.

Premier League title rivals Manchester City and Liverpool are light years ahead of United

Premier League title rivals Manchester City and Liverpool are light years ahead of United

When City and Liverpool join in their clash of the giants at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, it will serve to emphasise the gulf that has grown between them and United. Watching the Champions League adventures of our two leading clubs last week, while United sat idle, had the same effect.

The players United buy seem to think they have made it once they get to Old Trafford. Too many of them seem to think they have arrived before they win anything. 

At Liverpool and City, they know the journey is only just beginning when they are signed. Liverpool and City have energy coursing through them. United — the players, the executives, the stadium — smell of decay.

Welcome to Erik ten Hag’s in-tray. Or maybe his move to Manchester will never happen. Maybe ten Hag will look at what awaits him and flinch. 

Or maybe one of his friends will take him aside and give him a piece of advice about what to do if he is offered the Manchester United job: ‘Run, and don’t look back.’

UEFA’s big-club plan is a Big Fix

And there we were thinking we had fought off plans for a European Super League. It turns out that UEFA were so violently opposed to the idea that they have started to introduce it themselves, by stealth.

Under a new plan, the winners of the FA Cup could qualify for the Champions League from 2024 but only if it’s not Crystal Palace. Or Brentford. Or West Ham. Or any club not deemed to have enough ‘historical significance’.

It’s a stitch-up, basically, to squeeze in another two spots for the big clubs. 

They are so desperate to keep the old powers of the game onside that they have to resort to this kind of pathetic gerrymandering to do it. At least the Big Six were open about their desires. 

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi's big Champions League idea is one to forget

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s big Champions League idea is one to forget

PSG’s big idea is one to forget 

Of all the ideas that Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi could have proposed to improve football, he plumped for an opening ceremony for the Champions League final. 

He wants the Champions League to be as big as the Super Bowl, he said.

You know what the really dispiriting thing about that is? For most of us who love football, the Champions League final is every bit as big as the Super Bowl. It’s just that we don’t need an opening ceremony to tell us that. 

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