We recently spoke to an agent who was trying to set up a move for one of his players to Manchester United. Said player is at a club who don’t want to sell him, a major rival of United. The agent was doing his job and working out potential swap deals or cash plus player deals. He spoke to the main person at the rival club about any United players they might be interested in. If there was interest, he could go to United. That’s what intermediaries do, but the answer was blunt: “We’ve looked at all of them and none of them are of interest to us at the moment.”
And how you can believe it. United have just finished the worst season since 1989-90, a season when none of the players enhanced their reputations, yet all of them are on top money. They’re a poor investment for potential suitors, there’s better value elsewhere.
The agent knows Erik ten Hag. Rates him too. Says the United players are in for a huge culture change and that they’ll curse him after 3-4 months of ultra-repetitive training where the manager drums into his players exactly what he wants from them. There will be more stops than on the Metrolink to the Manchester Airport, more pauses and explanations from a coach and his assistant who pays extreme attention to detail.
I liked what I heard, since something has to change at United. The team which couldn’t lose away in 20-21 couldn’t stop losing away at the end of ’21-22. Last season never got going and there’s almost no regret from fans that so many players are leaving.
I spoke to someone else about Steve McClaren, who is back at United. Henning Berg, a decent manager by the way, rated as a master tactician by those in the coaching world.
“Steve McClaren came in at Old Trafford and we worked on team shape with him,” explained Berg. “That made a big difference for our results in Europe. In England, we were better player for player. In Europe, we’d play teams like Juventus, Barcelona, Inter and Milan. We needed to be better tactically and collectively. When Steve came in he helped a lot. A lot.”
Let’s hope McClaren still has it. At least he won’t be leading the United players alone to Melbourne in July, as he did in 1999 while Alex Ferguson stayed at home. United had just won the treble, the players were on a high. They respected McClaren but they didn’t fear him like they did Ferguson. So they hit the clubs of Australia hard. One afternoon, after Dwight Yorke hadn’t got his full eight hours, he tried to catch up on his sleep during a training session on the MCG pitch as he did stretches.
“Dwight’s from a small Caribbean island and I’m of Caribbean descent,” explained Andy Cole. “I know the mentality - when you reach the top, you relax and ease off, like when he went to sleep on the pitch. What more could Dwight do? He’d won the treble.”
Ferguson was soon back to restore order, while McClaren is no longer new to the workings of United or footballers. The club still have the global appeal of ’99 but the team is far from being at a level which wins European Cups, let alone talks about trebles. Besides, talk means little, it’s the winning that matters. No English club has won the treble apart from United, no club in Manchester the European Cup apart from United.
The optimist in me likes what I’ve heard about Ten Hag as much as I liked what I’d heard about Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho, but be careful with those first flushes of optimism. Even Ralf Rangnick was highly rated.
“It would be a no brainer not to get him,” one United staffer opined of Rangnick in November. Within three weeks, after working with him, he’d completely changed his opinion.
Let’s hope the Dutchman makes a better lasting impression and helps get Manchester United back to being a team we can be proud of once again.
Enjoy the issue, enjoy the summer, Andy Editor
FEATURES 4 Letters 14 Terry Deluxe: Rock of Gibraltar
18 The art of scouting
24 Book extract: United v liverpool 1985 FA cup semi final
30 UWS interview: Raphael Varane
32 Technique: End of season review of entire squad
46 The King and i Extract from Claude Boli’s book about hanging our with Eric
50 Rick McGagh interview: United’s Head of Fan Engagement REGULARS 04-07 manUvia 08-10 Guttersnipe 12 Jim White 27 Keith Dewhurst 58 GAWI
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