One of Erik ten Hag’s first remits as Manchester United manager will be almost identical to one of his predecessors. He’s here to put the smiles back on people’s faces.
That was the reason Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was called in to replace Jose Mourinho in November 2018, a caretaker spell that was supposed to lift the mood over the short-term but ended up being a long-term relationship that took United nowhere. Thankfully Erik ten Hag’s coaching credentials are deserving of the United job when Solskjaer’s were not, but the 52-year-old Dutchman will inherit a dressing room similar suffering a similar crisis of belief to the situation Solskjaer discovered.
On that occasion, they had been warned down by Mourinho’s caustic approach and the battles he was picking around the club. When the Portuguese was sacked and Solskjaer’s light-touch management arrived, the improvements were immediate.
So it seems ironic that in the season Solskjaer was also relieved of his duties the mood in the dressing room is as bad as it was when he arrived. Progress, what progress?
When the former United striker was sacked in November it felt like United needed a smart tactician and a modern coach to build on that work, but the appointment of Ralf Rangnick was a risk and one that has backfired spectacularly.
The German had spent just two of the previous 10 years on the training ground and he was a relative unknown to the United squad. He needed to win them over quickly but failed to do so, with the appointment of coaches that were almost completely unknown to his staff only exacerbating the issue.
There have been just 10 wins in 25 games under Rangnick and only 16 wins in 41 matches since a bright start to the season came to a shuddering halt with defeat in Switzerland in the first Champions League game of the season.
So it’s little wonder morale is through the floor and the playing squad have no belief in Rangnick’s ability to turn it around. He is becoming increasingly critical of the club in his media briefings and that is only adding to the divisions within the camp.
Those comments are going down well within the fanbase, but the reality is Rangnick will leave this squad in a worse position than he found it and for any interim manager that is disastrous.
Ten Hag might speak to Rangnick once he’s finished his commitments with Ajax and has full focus on United, but there will only be so much he can learn. There might be a feeling that Rangnick’s forthright views are exposing an underperforming dressing room, but given the squad haven’t enjoyed their time under him, his handover to Ten Hag will be of limited use to the new manager, why would you pay too much attention to the views of your underperforming successor, in any industry?
Ten Hag’s simplest win when he takes over might just to be someone different. The quality of his coaching has been noted in the dressing room and, just like Solskjaer was the antithesis of Mourinho, it might help Ten Hag to take a different approach to Rangnick.
It’s clear improvements must be made to the squad and the mental fragility at times this season has been a major concern, but just like plenty of players improved when released from Mourinho’s shackles, there will be an upturn again when Ten Hag replaces Rangnick.
The scale of the task facing the current Ajax boss is clearly sizeable, but restoring morale and raising confidence levels should be easy enough for a modern coach with a track record of improving players on the training ground.