Erik ten Hag era at Manchester United: FA Cup finals, fall outs and complicated signings, the story so far

Ronaldo's departure, Antony's failure, EFL Cup -- key highlights of ETH era

Erik ten Hag with Lisandro Martinez Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag with Lisandro Martinez, one of his prized signings | Reuters

Manchester United finished the just-concluded English Premier League season eighth, only a season after making it into the top three under manager Erik Ten Hag. The Red Devils were in the hunt for a top-four finish to seal a European berth but failed as they were outclassed by Aston Villa and Tottenham, among other teams. They concluded one of their worst seasons with 13 victories and 15 losses, settling for just 60 points. 

Dutch coach Erik ten Hag is once again as United made their lowest league finish since the 90s under his watch. ETH, who is gearing up for an FA Cup final clash against local rivals Manchester City on Saturday, has had an eventful stint at United so far. The 54-year-old, who arrived at Old Trafford after an outstanding stint at Ajax, is not among the most fondly remembered managers in England as he had his share of controversies.

Erik ten Hag's United stint has been fraught with issues both on and off the field. From fallouts with players to signings that didn't work out the way he intended due to various reasons have made him a "failed coach" at least to a section of fans and media. Meanwhile, rumours claiming that ETH will be removed from his office even if he wins the FA Cup final against Manchester City have started doing rounds. 

In this backdrop, let us look at the major developments that occurred during the "Erik ten Hag era" at Old Trafford

1. Carabao Cup/ EFL Cup victory 

Manager Erik ten Hag's only trophy with Manchester United to date is a Carabao Cup (EFL Cup) victory over Newcastle United in 2023. The Red Devils managed a 2-0 victory. Casemiro scored a header in the 33rd minute, and Rashford added the second goal six minutes later to seal the game. Casemiro and Marcus Rashford were in fine form and the United defence stood organised in front of David De Gea -- the then goalkeeper.

Erik ten Hag with Marcus Rashford Erik ten Hag with Marcus Rashford | AFP

The likes of Luke Shaw, Raphael Varane amd Lisandro Martinez delivering what was expected of them was key to the triumphant EFL campaign. Sadly for Ten Hag and United, some of them soon lost the touch while others were ruled out due to injury.

2. Fallout with Cristiano Ronaldo 

Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Manchester United in 2021 after departing for Real Madrid in 2009. CR7 was the club's top scorer in the 2021-22 season, but once Ten Hag took over, the club legend was eventually benched. The matter took an explosive turn when Ronaldo told Piers Morgan on Talk TV that he had been betrayed by the club, and he had no respect for the manager. "I don't have respect for him because he doesn't show respect for me...If you don't have respect for me, I'm never gonna have respect for you," Ronaldo told Morgan of Ten Hag. Soon, Ronaldo departed for Saudi Club Al-Nassr after having his contract with United terminated. 

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag with Cristiano Ronaldo and other players of the team | Reuters Erik ten Hag with Cristiano Ronaldo | Reuters

ALSO READ | Cristiano Ronaldo still terrifies opposition but none scared to take on Manchester United, says former Red Devil Anderson

3. Issues with Jadon Sancho 

Jadon Sancho manchester united days Jadon Sancho

Jaden Sancho was signed from Borussia Dortmund for £73 million and was expected to become Manchester United's next superstar. However, the English winger struggled to establish himself at Old Trafford and failed to meet his expectations. Under Ten Hag, the situation worsened over Sancho's absence during the 1-3 loss to Arsenal. Ten Hag said that Jadon Sancho was not performing well in training, which is why he was dropped from the squad. Sancho responded to this by criticizing the manager on social media. 

As a consequence, Sancho was not selected for any further games since he refused to apologize to Ten Hag. He spent about three months receiving his hefty paycheck while doing nothing but playing video games until the transfer window reopened. Sancho secured a loan move to Borussia Dortmund, where he played an important role in the club's run to the UEFA Champions League final. 

4. Signings 

According to a Sky Sports report, Erik ten Hag's squad cost a staggering £1.2bn in transfer fees when United secured a third-place finish in the Premier League, won the Carabao Cup and finished runners-up in the FA Cup. However, his 16 signings (loan deals included) failed to make the expected impact on United's fortunes. Brazilian Antony, who cost the club £86million (USD 108m), was the biggest disappointment while Christian Eriksen and Casemiro also failed to find form in the second season. 

Antony has only one goal and one assist in the 2023-24 Premier League while World Cup winner Lisandro Martinez, another former Ajax star, has been marred by injuries. Other signings, like Mason Mount, Wout Weghorst and Sofyan Amrabat too have had limited impact on the club.

5. 2023-24 season 

Manchester United aimed to finish in the top-four yet again after having finished third in the league the previous season. However, they were in trouble from the start and got eliminated from the Champions League after ranking last in their group stage. 

Rashford and Antony incidents 

antony-reuters Antony was dropped from Brazil squad as a consequence of the assault allegations | Reuters

There was an incident involving star forward Marcus Rashford, who was found partying ahead of an FA Cup tie. Having "partied hard" at Belfast, Rashford skipped training session the following day on the excuse of being sick. The action resulted in the English star being £650,000 — two weeks’ wages — and dropped from the tie against Newport County.

In September 2023, Gabriela Cavallin, former girlfriend of Antony, accused him of assault. A few days later, two other women also levelled similar allegations against the winger and he was dropped from the national side.

"Manchester United acknowledges the allegations made against Antony and notes that the police are conducting enquiries. Pending further information, the club will be making no further comments.

“As a club we are taking this matter seriously, with consideration of the impact of these allegations and subsequent reporting will have on survivors of abuse,” United had said after the allegations surfaced. 

The road ahead...

Amidst all the hue and cry, Erik ten Hag is convinced he will be the Manchester United manager next season after holding talks with the club hierarchy ahead of Saturday's FA Cup final.

Ten Hag said he had already met new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe to review the season and did not need assurances about his future.

"It is not necessary, we will go for next season," he said while adding that he will go on vacation on Sunday.

Only time will tell what will be the fate of ETH. Will his era continue at Old Trafford? Fingers crossed.

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