Erik ten Hag ignored Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United – Sir Jim Ratcliffe cannot afford to

Avram Glazer and Sir Jim Ratcliffe have work to do (Photo by Crystal Pix/MB Media/Getty Images)

By the end of his seven months at Manchester United as interim manager, Ralf Rangnick had seen enough.

He arrived at Old Trafford with glowing references from Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, describing him as the ‘godfather’ of German football, who possessed not only the tactical acumen to turn the side around on the pitch but the expertise to rebuild the club off it, too

Rangnick failed the first part after replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and miserably so – with United finishing sixth and 35 points behind champions Manchester City.

Reshaping an outdated infrastructure was the bigger task, with Rangnick agreeing at the time of his appointment to take on a two-year consultancy role at the club once his managerial stint was over. Rangnick, who had effectively built RB Leipzig from the ground up, was clear what needed to be done at Old Trafford.

‘It’s not enough to do some minor amendments – cosmetic things. In medicine you would say that this is an operation of the open heart. If this happens and everyone has realised that this has to happen and if people want to work together then it makes sense and I believe it doesn’t take two or three years to change those things. This can happen within one year,’ he said.

United’s first mistake, having appointed Erik ten Hag a fortnight earlier, was to give the Dutchman the power to make a decision on whether to retain Rangnick. As naive as ever, United’s board – then led by Richard Arnold and John Murtough – handed far too much influence to a manager that had done little to earn it.

The warning signs were there during Ten Hag’s first press conference in May, once the season had finished. Asked about working with Rangnick, Ten Hag said: ‘That is on the club.’ It wasn’t. Ten Hag had made his decision. ‘I analyse by myself, I observe and I speak with a lot of people, but I will draw my own line,’ he went on to say. Ten Hag didn’t once speak to Rangnick about his experience as interim manager, or his thoughts on the club’s future. He left the United later that month, failing to take on the consultancy role that he was primed for.

Ratcliffe’s ruthlessness must continue (Photo by Manchester United/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Rangnick’s warning came in April 2022. Fast forward just over two years and his words ring even truer now, particularly amid a much-changed landscape. Since Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s partial takeover in January, United’s board has virtually been wiped out. Arnold was the first to go, followed by Murtough in April. Last week, interim chief executive Patrick Stewart and chief financial officer Cliff Baty left the club. Darren Fletcher, the former technical director, has also seen his role changed as the club made room for Jason Wilcox to arrive from Southampton. Omar Berrada arrives in July as the club’s new CEO, while Dan Ashworth hopes to reach an agreement with Newcastle over his gardening leave to become United’s first Sporting Director.

But Ratcliffe and his INEOS partners would be foolish to think those changes will be remotely enough to transform United. Impressive though the speed of the changes at board level have been, the true test of Ratcliffe’s tenure will be change on the pitch.

The biggest decision this summer will be whether to sack Ten Hag. After acquiring 27.7% of the club, Ratcliffe suggested that the environment was a bigger problem than any individual, because top managers had failed at Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

United could finish 8th – without European football next term (Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

But if the 71-year-old hasn’t discovered it already, things change quickly in football. Monday night’s defeat to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park was the lowest low in a season of dismal displays. The scoreline may have been a humiliation, but the performance was entirely in keeping with displays throughout the rest of the season. Any one of a number of teams faced in recent months could have inflicted this type of defeat on United. It should not be dismissed as any sort of outlier.

Even still, this truly was a performance devoid of any silver lining.Alejandro Garnacho, held back last season so as not to give a 19-year-old too much too quickly, has been run into the ground. Kobbie Mainoo, a genuine highlight in an otherwise depressing season, has been dragged into the United vortex in recent weeks. Rasmus Hojlund, starved of service and support, has been burdened with the responsibility of leading the attack of the biggest club in the world at the age of 20.

And those three are the players with the most credit in the bank, alongside Diogo Dalot. What to make of Andre Onana? The Cameroonian cannot survive 90 minutes without making an error. In the first half of the season, his mistakes were so glaring that they were almost excusable and could be dismissed as rarities.

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His form in the second half of the season has supposedly improved, but by what metric? Virtually every goal he concedes leaves supporters questioning whether David De Gea ‘would have done better’ and there’s been little to no sign of his supposed strength with the ball at his feet.

Casemiro’s decline has been clear for all to see – except Ten Hag – since the opening weekend of the season when he was run ragged by Wolves at Old Trafford. Mason Mount was making just his fifth Premier League start of the season, and the first in his favoured position. With Bruno Fernandes virtually undroppable and United already walking a Profitability and Sustainability tightrope, it’s difficult to see any logic to the midfielder’s move to Old Trafford.

These decisions ultimately come back to Ten Hag. He can point to a lack of support – and United’s structure since he joined has been lagging behind their rivals – but it was the Dutchman that refused Rangnick’s help. It was Ten Hag that targeted players that he had worked with, players that had personally impressed him and players from the Eredivisie.

With Wilcox, Berrada and – eventually – Ashworth in place, mistakes like that should be a thing of the past. But, having virtually had free rein of the club during his two years, there is bound to be friction between the new board and Ten Hag if he remains at the club. If the Dutchman refused help from Rangnick, how will he take to having significantly reduced input in recruitment?

Sacking the manager was not a move that Ratcliffe and his new team would have wanted to make in their first summer in charge of football operations. They’ve been ultra-focused on environment and culture, down to the cleanliness of the training ground and use of company credit cards by employees. There is understandable sympathy for Ten Hag, who has to contend with an unprecedented injury crisis and a number off-field issues that any manager would have struggled with. He is undoubtedly a good coach, Bayern Munich’s interest in him to replace Thomas Tuchel underlines that.

But if Ratcliffe has wiped out most of the hires made by the Glazers, why would he stop with Ten Hag? The ruthlessness that he’s displayed at board level cannot stop there. The biggest mistake he could make is doing nothing. The changes needed are not merely ‘cosmetic’. Ask Rangnick.

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