tThere is no need to delve into how Eric ten Hag has changed Manchester United Tactically since his arrival as head coach last summer. The main difference is obvious and not related to tactics: he brought discipline where it was lacking.
Different players mentioned in interviews that there is now a structure and accountability. There is evidence of the change in attitude with Ten Hag publicly naming those in need of improvement.
Alejandro Garnacho’s professional levels were questioned and Marcus Rashford, despite being in fine form, was dropped from the squad I started in wolves Last weekend after oversleeping and being late for a meeting. Cristiano Ronaldo has been penalized twice for withdrawing from matches early and is no longer at the club. The players know they can’t let their standards slip whether in the Premier League, Europe or Friday’s FA Cup third round home to Everton.
Ten Hag used the media to send messages to his players. I recently spoke to a manager who explained that they use interviews to try to reach players or the board sometimes with commentary, because they know everyone is listening. There is a reason behind everything they say. Ten Hag doesn’t hide anything because players need to understand that they are being held accountable. Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world.
People in any area of life need basic standards. They should know that if they are late to work there will be consequences. People need structure to get the best out of them. Ten Hag brought United back the fine system to bring some risk.
I’m not sure exact systems are necessary because punctuality should be something that everyone follows but it has an effect there. At the World Cup, I’ve worked with former players who played under Sir Alex Ferguson, and being on time – or even early – was very important to them. This is something they learned at United and this attitude has helped them achieve their success. They still live by these standards, and rightfully so.
Ten Hag has given his players clear instructions and that applies on the pitch as well: they know they need to press with a certain force and that when they fall behind, he will pull them to it. At the beginning of the season, players run sprint tests to see their top speed and uses statistics when they fail to meet the criteria.
As seen in the case of Ronaldo, Ten Hag is very assertive. Rules and guidelines are there for everyone to follow. Managers need to stick to their principles because when they change it all is lost. Ten Hag will be keen to move on from the Ronaldo saga and the decisive action taken to get him released from his contract will help everyone at the club to do so.
Few could doubt the quality of Ten Hag that was available to him when he arrived and it was a matter of getting the best out of him. Smart additions have also been made. By signing Casemiro, he chose one of the most disciplined players in the world. The Brazilian doesn’t overcomplicate things – he sticks to his job.
Ten Hag pushed him to the side against Wolves and gave him tactical information that Casemiro quickly understood and implemented. Casemiro knows his role, takes control and puts things in order. He is a lieutenant and gets the best out of everyone around him.
Everyone who was near him improved, from Fred to Bruno Fernandes. When I played as an attacking player, the defensive midfielder was always the most important because they stopped counter-attacks and kept the ball moving in a simple way. When I watched Casemiro live, he was the best player ever. When you have a player like him it’s an absolute joy for the coach and his team mates.
Higher standards in coaching lead to better matches. Players like Rashford may have benefited from that. Intense training is how to change form, not just as a team but as individuals. Rashford are now up against defenders on the training ground who have picked up clean sheets in their past four matches.
In training they will have pride in turning goals away, making strikers work harder to score, and Rashford will have to work as hard as he can every day to score. It was a great turnaround and got the best out of everyone. A footballer’s job is to be the best he can be and when someone does that, he drags others along with him.
By creating structure, Ten Hag is leading United in the right direction. There will come a point in the near future when he decides signings are needed to help out in certain areas where the team needs an extra push.
When that time comes, new players will come into a positive environment, where everyone knows their role and what is expected of them. What Tin Hag has done is reap the rewards in the short term and it will help him for years to come.