Ten Hag’s future at Manchester United is not down to results anymore

MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United drew 1-1 with Burnley at Old Trafford on Saturday, but results are no longer the only thing that matters for manager Erik ten Hag.

We’ve reached the point where everything is viewed through the prism of the Dutchman’s future; each game and each performance either a tick or a cross. Will Ten Hag still be at the club next season or has this miserable campaign already been too damaging? Only Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his INEOS team will know the answer. That is if they’ve reached one at all.

The problem though, is that while deliberations and due diligence go on behind the scenes, Ten Hag is effectively on trial. And a home draw against the team second bottom of the Premier League can only be considered another dent to his chances of staying in a job.

“It shouldn’t happen,” said Ten Hag, when asked about Burnley’s late equaliser. “It is so unnecessary when you work hard and good together. We work hard and control the game and have loads of chances. Most of the game is all ours and then give it away.” Ten Hag’s frustration is becoming more and more apparent.

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This week, he refused to take questions from media outlets he decided had been “disrespectful” in their coverage of the narrow FA Cup semifinal victory over Coventry City. He didn’t like the suggestion that needing penalties to beat a team from the division below having blown a three-goal lead was “embarrassing,” or that the result had somehow weakened his position as manager.

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that the speculation around Ten Hag’s future has grown out of Ratcliffe’s decision to say nothing.

Had the 71-year-old British billionaire, or anyone from INEOS, been clear that he will definitely remain as manager next season then all the noise would have already disappeared. Ratcliffe has given plenty of interviews since his 27.7% stake was confirmed in February, but on the subject of the manager he has chosen to keep his cards close to his chest.

Instead, the line from INEOS is that they’re “keeping their options open” and so, by extension, Ten Hag is under threat. It’s created a situation where managers are privately campaigning for his job and left the 54-year-old pleading for patience from a fanbase who are growing restless.

“We have some very young players and that is why we built this club back and that takes time,” Ten Hag said. “They are all in the first season of the Premier League and it gets more and more intense year by year. Those players have to adjust and that takes time. I am very impatient but we need patience.

“Even the great Man United teams, it takes time but everyone forgets — even the players who were in the team — they forget they were struggling and need time to progress.”

The former Ajax manager can make a strong case to stay. He’s got a year left on his contract and last season won the Carabao Cup, reached the FA Cup final and finished third in the Premier League. This season, he has dealt with injuries to key players like Lisandro Martínez and Luke Shaw to reach a second successive FA Cup final and could yet win a second trophy in as many years.

He’s also brought through youngsters Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo and turned them into first-team regulars while also improving established senior players like Diogo Dalot. But if that’s the list of pros, the other side of the progress chart has plenty of entries, too. United will almost certainly miss out on UEFA Champions League qualification and endured a humiliating exit from the competition before Christmas.

Burnley’s goal — a late penalty scored by Zeki Amdouni after he had been clattered by André Onana — was the 77th they’ve conceded in all competitions, the most in any season for 45 years. Their 52 league goals is the lowest tally of any team in the top nine.

The performance of Vincent Kompany’s team at Old Trafford will also raise more questions about Ten Hag’s game plan. Burnley had more possession and 16 shots, three of which Onana did incredibly well to save. On a different day, the visitors, now unbeaten in eight games, would have gone up 2-0 at half-time.

More than once, a single pass through midfield set Lyle Foster running at United’s back four and it was a surprise that it took Burnley until the 87th minute to score. United’s goal, scored by Antony, came from a Burnley mistake, and afterward, Kompany spoke like a man disappointed to leave with just a point.

“We had chances and we had team spirit,” Kompany said. “Burnley made ourselves proud today.” With three games to go, they’ve given themselves a chance of staying up.

Ten Hag, too, has a chance of remaining as United manager, but failing to beat Burnley at home will only further the case of fans who have already decided there has to be change this summer. Without a definite decision from Ratcliffe and INEOS one way or the other, Ten Hag will move on to his next game against Crystal Palace in nine days.

After the latest poor result in a season littered with them, the week will be filled with more awkward questions, most of which Ten Hag won’t want to answer. Then the jury can reconvene at Selhurst Park to pass more judgment on whether the United manager should stay or go.

This post was originally published on ESPN

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