Erik ten Hag is facing up to the arguably the biggest challenge facing any Manchester United manager in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.
David Moyes faced the almost impossible task of replacing the Red Devils legend, while Louis van Gaal failed to bring the best out of a dressing room of superstars despite an FA Cup success. Jose Mourinho remains the last United manager to lift silverware, with the wheels quickly coming off the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bandwagon after a Europa League final defeat.
Interim boss Ralf Rangnick was unable to steady the ship, leaving ten Hag with the sizeable task of rebuilding the Red Devils from close to scratch. A return to the Champions League has become the immediate priority, let alone closing the chasm to rivals Liverpool and Manchester City at the summit.
However, Ten Hag already appears to be winning battles and establishing control often denied to his predecessors. United’s hierarchy have been much maligned in recent years, with regular fan protests and recent managers going to express their exasperation with problems behind the scenes.
Football’s worst-kept secret was confirmed in April with Ten Hag’s appointment, and the outgoing Ajax boss has wasted little time in getting to work at Old Trafford. Pep Guardiola’s former understudy at Bayern Munich has already confirmed Steve McClaren and Mitchell van der Gaag as his assistants, with a substantial squad overhaul expected this summer.
Many had questioned how ten Hag would handle the working dynamic with Rangnick, with the interim boss expected to juggle a consultancy role next season alongside his role as an international manager with Austria. However, Sunday’s announcement confirmed a ‘mutual agreement’ had been struck to allow the 63-year-old to make a permanent exit.
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United’s club statement read: “We would like to thank Ralf Rangnick for his efforts as interim manager over the past six months. By mutual agreement, Ralf will now focus solely on his new role as manager of the Austria national team and will not therefore be taking up a consultancy role at Old Trafford. We would like to wish Ralf the best of luck in this next chapter of his career.”
There is no indication that ten Hag forced his new employers to sever all ties with Rangnick. However, the incoming manager’s previous curt response to questions on this dynamic hint the Dutchman was never in favour of such a partnership.
When asked if he felt the German’s role as a consultant was going to be valuable at his first Old Trafford press conference, ten Hag simply replied ‘that is on the club’. The new United manager went on to describe how he would ‘draw his own line’ on the current underperforming squad, distancing himself from suggestions he could rely on Rangnick’s own assessments.
This ‘mutual agreement’ removes another potential obstacle in ten Hag’s attempts to assert his authority at a club synonymous with dysfunction in recent seasons. Sir Alex Ferguson’s unparalleled record afforded the Red Devils legend a degree of control not seen since, boosted by a productive relationship with former chief executive David Gill.
Ferguson’s successors have since worked closely with Ed Woodward, and the former executive vice-chairman endured a chequered record in the transfer market. Richard Arnold assumed the mantle of the club’s CEO in February, and it has been a year of major change behind the scenes with director of football negotiations Matt Judge, employees chief strategy officer Hemen Tseayo, chief scout Jim Lawlor and head of global scouting Marcel Bout all set to leave.
The era of legendary figures such as Ferguson and Arsene Wenger enjoying near total control at leading clubs will almost certainly never return. However, Rangnick’s exit adds to an emerging power vaccum which could afford ten Hag a luxury denied to the previous five incumbents in the Old Trafford hot-seat.