GRAEME SOUNESS: Man United players are not having Erik ten Hag

GRAEME SOUNESS: United players are not having Ten Hag’s body language, his soft Dutch accent or his ill-fitting suits. He’s on a wing and a prayer…

  • Man United’s players look like they are struggling to buy into Erik ten Hag  
  • This is a group of Man United players who don’t look at themselves in the mirror 
  • Is Erik ten Hag out of his depth at Man United? Listen here to It’s All Kicking Off 

When it comes to considering how a manager will fare at a new club, I put myself back into the position of my first day, meeting the team I was about to manage.

I know the players are sitting there, listening to me and thinking: ‘Come on then. Tell us how you’re going to make us better as individuals and as a team.’ Never in my wildest imagination have I been able to picture Erik ten Hag holding court from the middle of a dressing room, convincing a group of young men with highly inflated opinions of themselves that they are all going places together.

I think the majority of them are struggling to buy into his body language, his demeanour, his soft Dutch accent, his ill-fitting suits. From his very first team talk, the players will have worked out what he is and what he isn’t.

The dressing room is a ruthless place. Football players are a cynical bunch. They will look for little chinks in this manager’s armour. I find it hard to believe there will not have been some scepticism from day one.

Ten Hag has just never jumped out to me as someone capable of saying: ‘Hey lads. We’re all in this together. Let’s roll our sleeves up and deal with everything that comes our way.’

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is under pressure following a dismal run of results

Players will have worked out from early in his tenure what Ten Hag is and what he isn’t 

Mail Sport columnist Graeme Souness believes Man United’s squad aren’t buying in to Ten Hag

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When Sir Alex Ferguson was at that club, he created an atmosphere of ‘It’s us against the world’. Not now. That dressing room looks fragmented, with no-one trusting anyone and no togetherness.

Ten Hag’s c.v. — or lack of one — doesn’t help. It’s not telling me that he’s going to be a success at Manchester United. He got the job on the back of managing Bayern Munich reserves, Utrecht and then Ajax, the consistently dominant team in the Dutch Eredivisie which, with all due respect, is not the strongest of leagues.

He then proceeded to persuade United to sign players who so far have not been good enough to play at a big club in England. Since he took the job, that club have spent £411million. Only Chelsea have spent more.

United’s players are all looking at each other for help now, and I don’t know where they’re getting it from. You would have thought Casemiro or Raphael Varane would help but how’s their English? That leaves you with Bruno Fernandes as captain of that club, running about waving his arms around when things are not going well. Not a good look.

There’s the Jadon Sancho situation, and the problems with Andre Onana, when there were far bigger priorities this summer than getting a goalkeeper who could kick the ball better than David de Gea.

Cristiano Ronaldo giving up on United was significant. He was the best advert for professional football you could get — but United got rid of him in what would appear, at best, to have been a misunderstanding over how much game time he was going to get.

It’s not all about the manager, though. That old saying ‘Have a look at yourself in the mirror’ is as valid today as it ever was. This group of United players don’t look themselves in the mirror.

Ten Hag earned the Man United job off the back of success with an already dominant Ajax side

Man United were persuaded to spend £411m by Ten Hag on players who have failed to impress

Cristiano Ronaldo giving up on Man United should have been seen as a significant moment

The phrase I detest more than any other in football — and you hear it far too often — is: ‘The manager’s lost the dressing room.’ Let’s take that expression down for a moment and analyse what it really means. In plain English, it’s a group of weak-willed players who are looking for an excuse, piling blame on the manager.

We didn’t look for excuses at Liverpool in the depths of the winter 1981, when we lost to Manchester City and slipped to 12th in the league. Joe Fagan got us together and said: ‘That’s it. There’s nothing else we can help you with. I suggest you lot go out, have a few beers and f****** sort it out yourselves.’ We did. And we won the league five months later.

The reason why United are in the mire is they’ve spent one-and-a-half billion pounds on average players since Fergie left. Fergie would have had the first and last say on who was joining and leaving that club. I would suggest that since he’s gone, that’s just not been the case. I keep saying it to the point of being boring: non-footballing people are making the biggest decisions at many big clubs in the Premier League.

Although United finished third and won the Carabao Cup last year, an alarm bell bigger than Big Ben should have been ringing in their heads, after the manner of the club’s 7-0 defeat at the home of their historical rivals, Liverpool. Players that day simply threw in the towel.

The club are now at a stage where there’s little Ten Hag can do about any of it. I assure you he will have said everything he can say, tried absolutely everything he feels he can do, to make it work. He’s exhausted all the ideas and terminology. He is now entering every game on a wing and a prayer.

The manner of Man United’s 7-0 defeat against Liverpool should have sounded alarm bells

Man United are now at a stage where there is little Ten Hag can do to address the situation

Sign me up, Al-Ettifaq…

I spent a week in Portugal last week and was in the gym every day, sometimes watching Portuguese television carrying games from the Saudi league. 

It was an experience which helped me understand why only 696 fans turned up to watch Jordan Henderson’s Al-Ettifaq team lose at home. 

I have to say that the games were a difficult watch and they actually got me thinking: ‘I could do half an hour as an ageing central midfielder in that football.’ I’m making myself available!

Jordan Henderson’s Al-Ettifaq team were watched by just 696 in the Saudi Pro League

Storm Ciaran blew in some entertainment

I watched my local team Bournemouth lose to my old team, Liverpool, on Wednesday with Storm Ciaran on the way, creating the kind of conditions that every professional player most hates. 

They can deal with heavy rain or a bit of snow. But pros don’t like a gale because no two passes are the same. It’s often easier to play into the wind. You punch your passes and go as hard with them as you want. But when you’ve got the wind behind you, it’s so easy to overhit them. 

Both teams performed really well in very difficult conditions.

Bournemouth and Liverpool provided entertainment in the Carabao Cup in difficult conditions

Darwin’s doing the job 

Darwin Nunez’s winner against Bournemouth was a reminder of his talent. 

Right now, he needs three chances to score a goal but is still a fabulous player who works his socks off and defenders will not enjoy playing against him. 

The challenge for him is to get a goal in every two chances.

Darwin Nunez’s goal was a reminder of his talent but he still needs to become more clinical

Toon topping the class 

Newcastle have a big four days coming up, with games against Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund. 

Not every result has gone their way, but that happens to the best teams in football. 

They are so far in front of where any football person would have imagined them to be at this stage, playing AC Milan one week, PSG the next. 

Beating Manchester United 3-0 this week while lighting up cigars. If a teacher was writing their school report, the conclusion would be: ‘Excellent.’ 

Newcastle are further along under Eddie Howe than anyone could have expected at this stage

Best wishes, Liam Brady! 

I enjoyed Liam Brady’s interview on these pages, in which he related the story of me moving into the apartment he vacated in Sampdoria in 1984. Liam had just left the club to play for Inter Milan, as I joined. 

He told the story of how his removals people left us with no lights in the apartment — and related the tackle I made on him when our teams met in a pre-season friendly. The apartment electrics and the tackle were definitely not related, though as I recall, it wasn’t just the lights which had gone. It was all the fittings too! 

That match was my debut for Sampdoria and perhaps on reflection I was slightly aggressive. Nothing personal Liam. Is it a tad late to make an apology?!


It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

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