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EDITORIAL

FEATURES

15 James Gibson and Sir Jim Ratcliffe

I feel that the period between now and the end of the season will make or break Erik ten Hag’s time as Manchester United manager. The decision has not been made on him after 18 months as it had with Louis van Gaal. United’s latest Dutch manager still enjoys significant support — and sympathy — for both the job he has and the job he’s done. But did his high point as United manager come a year ago in February 2023, when, following a win against the 115s in January, United knocked Barcelona out of Europe and lifted a first trophy in six years? There’s been a gradual slide ever since.

Injuries to the best players have been a major factor. The strategic review in the background hasn’t helped, nor has other sides being so good — though several rivals face potentially unsettling managerial changes. In installing his style of management, where he rightly feels the manager should be the most important person at the club and the one who instils discipline, Ten Hag’s come up against players, notably Jadon Sancho this season. And the woefully out of form Marcus Rashford.

The Dutchman hasn’t been afraid to make difficult decisions and he’s got most right, but he needs wins more than ever right now. He got them in his first season; definitive ones, since his side draws few games. The old two points for a win would have killed him, but despite that, this season is worse than the Moyes one so far. Really, it’s that bad. Yet United are still in with a shout of European football for next term. Not that this side looks capable of doing anything in Europe.

I want Ten Hag to succeed, but have several concerns. The football has been as bad as the results this season. The team don’t score enough, don’t excite enough and too many of the players are performing nowhere near their level.

United remains a huge story because the club is so well supported and because those who don’t support United like watching the car crash that the club has become, but seldom do Manchester United make the headlines for winning huge football matches by playing brilliant football. The old beast still twitches, with the odd comeback and fine play, but it’s too little and it’ll soon be too late if the team don’t win a lot more games and climb the table. We’re in February now and the season has still not got going.

I’m still smarting after one win in six European games. That is Ten Hag’s biggest failure so far, but he hasn’t given up like Mourinho did when the Portuguese just sat in the Carrington dressing room giving his players the evil eye before training, or offering them a finger instead of a hand to shake. Mourinho could see his own stock sliding in front of his eyes. We’re not there yet with Ten Hag, but his recruitment doesn’t seem half as sharp as it did a year ago. Maybe it’s unfair to put it on one man and his agents to fix. He needs a better recruitment structure around him at United and that’s one of the priorities for INEOS. Thanks to Sir Jim Ratcliffe, there is a solution here, a prospect for a brighter future, for a reality check.

And how some of the players need a check. I was recently approached by a PR agent for one of the United players wondering if I’d like to speak with a “world-class player having his best season in football”. If this was for Jude Bellingham you’d understand, not a player who isn’t even a regular starter in a side who are seventh or eighth in the league.

United has to stop being a talent-shredding factory for overpaid, over-sensitive and underperforming players. Ten Hag’s side has to show evidence that it’s going somewhere, that there’s a more definable style of football. It’s encouraging that he’s brought Kobbie Mainoo in and had belief in Alejandro Garnacho. I spoke to enough people in football who didn’t share Ten Hag’s optimism about either player. One former United player told people as much in a pub as Mainoo made his debut v Everton. He got that one wrong, as the cover star of this fanzine was peerless.

Two years is a fair period of time to judge a football manager. And Erik ten Hag is closing in on his two years and his judgement time. We wish him well, for a brighter end to a season that has yet to see sunlight.

Enjoy this issue, Andy Editor

22 Manchester United in Colour 26 The Old Nags Head

29 Bishop United

36 London Loves

38 Songs That Saved Your Life

40 We’ll Meet Again: Fulham

REGULARS 04-07 manUvia 08-10 Guttersnipe 12 Jim White 33 Keith Dewhurst 42 GAWI

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