IAN LADYMAN: When managers lose their authority they are dead, but Erik ten Hag is still very much alive at Manchester United
- Man United axed Jadon Sancho from training after his fall-out with Erik ten Hag
- It was the latest reminder that the Dutchman’s power at the club remains strong
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
Stan Collymore tells a story about one of his first training sessions after joining Liverpool as English record transfer in 1995.
‘One morning we were all wandering out to training when Roy Evans made some quip to Robbie Fowler and they started joking about,’ Collymore wrote in his autobiography.
‘Robbie got the gaffer’s head in an armlock and started frizzing up his hair. What would have happened if Gary Neville ever tried that with Alex Ferguson?
‘Somehow, I couldn’t see it.’ Collymore’s point is about respect and standing and authority, all of which are relevant points to consider this week. Management has become more nuanced at the top end of the game but some things don’t change. When football managers lose their authority they are dead.
Erik ten Hag remains very much alive at Manchester United. His results are not great and could yet get worse. United are at home to Brighton – who beat them at Old Trafford last season – tomorrow and then travel to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. But in terms of Ten Hag’s power at the football club, it remains strong. Lines in the sand have been drawn.
Manchester United have axed Jadon Sancho from training after his fall-out with Erik ten Hag
It was the latest reminder that Ten Hag’s power and support base at the club remains strong
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Who wins or loses from the Jadon Sancho episode? The answer is probably nobody and it doesn’t really matter anyway. What matters is that other United players are now more aware than ever what their manager will and will not tolerate. Lateness and a lack of daily application are – it should surprise nobody – not on Ten Hag’s list of positives.
Some of the reaction to Ten Hag’s decision to intimate Sancho has been training poorly has been hysterical. Micah Richards, once of Manchester City and England, said Ten Hag had publicly embarrassed Sancho. Really? Is that all it takes these days? Does the modern footballer really have such thin skin?
Across the network of former players and old managers eyebrows will have been raised. Those in charge of football teams and those who play in them have been clashing for years. It’s a crucial dynamic, one that serves to give a squad of players much of its energy and vitality throughout a long season. Battles are fought, won, lost and forgotten about on a regular, almost cyclical basis. But if all of that surface drama is underpinned by an understanding of who really is in charge then it remains largely superficial.
The myth of Ferguson’s hairdryer goes on, for example. The more mundane truth is that he rarely used it. Last week I watched an interview with him in which he told a story of a time when, as a manager in his 30s at St Mirren, a player asked for a Friday off. Ferguson’s instinct was to say no, to suspect an underhand motive. The truth was that the player’s mother had died. Ferguson learned immediately to ask first and then reach a judgement.
Equally, 25 years later, Ferguson used to single out David Beckham and Ryan Giggs for criticism in the dressing room at OId Trafford, even when they didn’t deserve it.
‘We knew what he was doing,’ Giggs subsequently told me. ‘It sent a message to everyone else. If me and Becks weren’t safe, nor was anybody else.’ And all this is called management, skills honed in a time when it was easier for sure. Players have always been sensitive to criticism. They are human. Just because they are athletes doesn’t mean they were born inside an impenetrable outer shell.
Sancho was dropped by Ten Hag for the 3-1 loss to Arsenal over his ‘training performance’
Sir Alex Ferguson was the master at man management and maintaining his authority at United
Alan Shearer tells a story of Graham Taylor removing newspapers from the England team hotel to make sure players could not read their marks out of ten.. A personal memory is of the former Nottingham Forest captain Colin Cooper – a gentle man – challenging me to a race across the City Ground car park after I questioned his pace in a local paper write up. I declined, citing a heavy lunch.
These days, wealth has altered the balance of power between player and manager. Top players earn more than the man in the manager’s office. Many of them no longer actually need to work. It is inevitable that shifts the dial a little bit. Nor have our top clubs helped. Managers do not often get the time that men like Ferguson did.
Players can smell weakness and vulnerability as keenly as they smell cut grass on the training field and when they know the average manager gets two years or less to prove himself in the Premier League, that knowledge breeds the kind of power that helps nobody.
The days of iron fist management in football have probably gone. Equally it doesn’t pay to be nice. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer discovered that. The happiest ground is the middle ground. Ten Hag is seeking it and, on that point at least, he would appear to be on track.
Southgate hasn’t helped Maguire with his outburst
Watching Harry Maguire being lampooned by Scotland supporters at Hampden on Tuesday, I thought about the last time I felt so uncomfortable watching a footballer. It was at Wembley almost a year ago as England drew 3-3 with Germany in their final game before the World Cup. The player in question was also Harry Maguire.
So Maguire’s troubles have been following him around for some time. Tuesday night was pretty awful. Maguire is a decent, honest and accommodating bloke who loves playing for his country. If you don’t feel sympathy for him then you have a heart made of stone.
But if he didn’t exactly need to hear 50,000 cackling Scots in his ear every time he touched the ball at Hampden then he has needed the hoohah that has followed even less. And for that he has Gareth Southgate to blame.
It was pretty awful watching the treatment Harry Maguire was subjected to against Scotland
But Gareth Southgate’s furious outburst in defence of Maguire has only added to the hoohah
Maguire on Tuesday night was what we call in the trade a one-day news story.. Another bad night for big Harry. They come and they go. But then Southgate walked into a press conference room and changed all that. He didn’t just give the story fresh legs but fitted it with a new pair of running shoes and fed it an energy gel.
Here we are on Thursday and still we talk about Harry. Now his mum has joined in too. At Old Trafford tomorrow, the Brighton fans – not normally a vicious lot – will be desperate for him to play.
And it’s all on Southgate. In his seven years as England manager, he has done more to bring his England squad together than anyone in recent memory. His concern for Maguire’s wellbeing is genuine and his irritation at what he feels has been unfair treatment is instinctive. But he has read the room wrong on this one and it’s Maguire who will pay the price for that.
Prospective Everton owners set alarm bells ringing
The back story of prospective new Everton owners spews out red flags like confetti.
It seems any takeover by the American investment firm 777 would be financed by borrowed capital. Co-founder Josh Wander has a criminal record having once had cocaine sent to him through the post. Not just criminal, then, but stupid with it.
Add to this the fact they missed a payment date for almost £1m owed – now paid – to the British Basketball League earlier this summer and the hairs on the back of your neck only stand taller.
If I was an Everton fan I would ask myself why 777 really want to buy my club. Despite the current pickle that Everton find themselves in, I would also be hoping this deal falls down.
We know Everton are desperate but are they really this desperate?
The back story of prospective new Everton owners 777 Partners spews out red flags like confetti (pictured – 777 co-founder Josh Wander, who is in talks to buy the club)
Silence about City shows their class
Four games into the Premier League season and nobody talks about Manchester City.
Liverpool and their midfield. Arsenal and Mikel Arteta’s tactics. Chelsea and their spending. Tottenham and their new manager. Manchester United and, well, everything.
But City? Nothing. They play, they win, they go home. Just like all the best teams ever did. The longer it goes on, the more the rest of the Premier League should fear that silence.
The lack of fuss about Man City’s perfect start to the season is a reminder of their quality
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