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Erik ten Hag's uncertain future: Why days of Manchester United's 'dead man walking' are numbered

As Manchester United faces a historically challenging season, the spotlight on manager Erik ten Hag has intensified. The arrival of Sir Jim Ratcliffe as a major stakeholder adds an extra layer of uncertainty regarding the manager's future.

football Erik ten Hag uncertain future: Why days of Manchester United's 'dead man walking' are numbered snt
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First Published Dec 26, 2023, 1:54 PM IST

Manchester United's 2023-2024 season has been marred by historic lows, with the team suffering 13 defeats in all competitions, leaving them in eighth place in the Premier League. The recent 2-0 loss to West Ham only intensified the pressure on manager Erik ten Hag, who is now facing increasing scrutiny as his team navigates one of their worst seasons in decades. With the recent completion of petrochemicals billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe's 1.25 billion pounds buy-out of a 25% stake in the club, Ten Hag's future at Old Trafford appears more precarious than ever.

The 13 defeats suffered by Manchester United this season mark a level of futility not seen since 1930 when the club finished at the bottom of the First Division. This alarming statistic underscores the severity of the team's struggles, exacerbated by their early exits from both the Champions League and the Carabao Cup.

Also read: Sir Jim Ratcliffe promises to restore Manchester United's former glory after acquiring 25% stake

Following their defeat to West Ham, Manchester United finds themselves in eighth place in the Premier League. This is a far cry from the standards expected at Old Trafford, and the team's poor performance has left fans and pundits alike questioning the leadership and tactics under Erik ten Hag.

The completion of Sir Jim Ratcliffe's substantial investment in Manchester United has added a new layer of uncertainty to Ten Hag's tenure. The billionaire's 1.25 billion pounds buy-out of a significant stake in the club positions him as a key decision-maker, and there are concerns that Ten Hag's days as the manager may be numbered.

Expert opinions: "Dead man walking"

Mail Sport football editor Ian Ladyman and former player Chris Sutton, speaking on It's All Kicking Off, expressed a shared sentiment that Ten Hag "looks like a dead man walking." Ladyman highlighted the impending arrival of Ratcliffe's investment as a critical factor, suggesting that the manager is "sleepwalking towards the door."

"You and I have defended Erik ten Hag and stuck up for him, talking about the good things he's done at Manchester United and the need for patience. I tell you what, right now, in advance of Jim Ratcliffe's INEOS investment arriving at Old Trafford pretty soon, he's a dead man walking. He looks like a dead man walking to me now and I hate to say that. He's sleepwalking, he looks to me like he's sleepwalking towards the door," Ladyman said.

"I think that, yes. I'd love to know when. I'd love to go back and remember when I described him as a 'Eric 10 games'. I wouldn't be too far off with that. I think your terminology of a dead man walking is right. What really worries me about him at this moment in time is that I don't know what game he's watching when he comes out afterwards and says that they performed well," Sutton said.

He further added, "You know they didn't perform well by Manchester United's standards against West Ham. They didn't perform well when we sat at Old Trafford and Bayern Munich won without breaking sweat. That's a major worry and there are issues all over the park. I mean, where do you start?"

Rasmus Hojlund's struggles, coaching and tactical concerns

Analysts delved into the on-field problems plaguing Manchester United, with Sutton expressing concern over the performance of high-profile summer signing Rasmus Hojlund. The striker, who cost 72 million pounds, has struggled to find the net, with Sutton attributing his difficulties to a lack of support from the wide players and a crisis of confidence.

"'I've been there as a centre forward where he seems to have real doubts and a lack of understanding about what his actual role is. He seems to have lost confidence because of that. He is hesitating and that's a massive problem. Do we blame him for that? Do we really know how good he is? Of course we don't because he has two wide players who simply give you the ball when they're finished with it. That is a nightmare situation to be in," Sutton said.

Sutton took issue with Brazilian winger Antony, accusing him of being self-centered when in advantageous positions. Additionally, he criticized Marcus Rashford for displaying a petulant attitude throughout the season, suggesting that the English star was figuratively 'throwing his toys out of the pram.' Sutton went on to express his concern about Rashford, noting that he appeared disinterested on the field and seemed to be burdened with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Ladyman pointed out a concerning statistic that United's wide players had only provided Hojlund with 11 passes in Premier League action this season. This lack of creative support has raised questions about Ten Hag's coaching and tactical decisions, as the team struggles to score goals and create chances.

"That is an absolutely extraordinary statistic. 11 passes from his wide players in the Premier League and it's Christmas Day. So that is partly on Ten Hag. The difficulty scoring goals, difficulty creating chances. He has got Bruno Fernandes, he's got Marcus Rashford, and he's got [Alejandro] Garnacho, and Antony and [Anthony] Martial, [Jadon] Sancho and Hojlund. They can't create chances and I'm afraid that is on the coach. That is why I think anyone making an investment the size that Jim Ratcliffe is about to will need to look at his coach and see signs he knows what he is doing," Ladyman noted.

As Manchester United faces a historically challenging season, the spotlight on manager Erik ten Hag has intensified. The arrival of Sir Jim Ratcliffe as a major stakeholder adds an extra layer of uncertainty regarding the manager's future. With expert opinions suggesting that Ten Hag's days at Old Trafford may be numbered, the club and its investors face critical decisions in the coming weeks that could shape the trajectory of one of the world's most iconic football clubs.

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