Manchester United: Why the Glazers have set Erik ten Hag up to fail

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag walks off at halftime during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton FC at Old Trafford on April 08, 2023 in Manchester, England.
(Image credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Manchester United finished their 3-1 defeat against Arsenal with Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans as their centre-back pairing: the same two that Leicester City had four seasons ago.

It's an example of the stagnation at Old Trafford, alright – and not something you could possibly imagine at Manchester City, Liverpool, even Arsenal these days. Ex-club captain Gary Neville berated the Glazer ownership after yet another away defeat for their lack of investment – and it's well known to everyone that those at the top of the tree at Old Trafford refuse to dip into their pockets to strengthen the squad.

But is that the biggest reason for Manchester United's failure to catch up with rivals in the last few years? Really?

The Glazers haven't invested in Erik Ten Hag at Manchester United – but money isn't the problem

Manchester United co-chairmen Joel Glazer and Avram Glazer (L) prepare to watch the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on February 11, 2015. Manchester United won the game 3-1.

Manchester United co-chairmen Joel Glazer and Avram Glazer are despised by fans (Image credit: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

The Glazers are a polarising topic within the world of English football. Ask any Manchester United fan and they'll tell you that the US businessmen are parasites proceeding over a slow demise of a once-great institution. Yet to some, that's an excuse: and it's true that the numbers don't quite stack up.

Chelsea have been handing out eight-year contracts for the past three transfer windows: they have the highest net spend in the Premier League over the last five years. Yet second on the list, sit Manchester United, whose fans call for more investment from their owners. 

Neville pointed out on Sky Sports at the weekend that with the revenue the club brings in, his former side should be high up on any net-spend list – but it's hard to argue that his former employers have spent the money well. 

VIDEO: How Arsenal EVOLVED Declan Rice To Beat Man United

Paul Pogba is still the club's record signing – ahead of Antony, who cost £80 million. The Brazilian has managed 11 goals and assists in 47 games at United, which isn't a great return – and he starts ahead of Jadon Sancho, who's failed to impress after moving for a similar amount of money. 

Between Antony and Sancho on the record signing list is the much-maligned Harry Maguire. Below them are Romelu Lukaku and Angel Di Maria, two big-money buys who left shortly after joining and whom United were lucky to recoup big fees for from clubs on the continent. Next on the list after that are two players at different ends of their careers, Rasmus Hojlund and Casemiro, with one thing in common: United paid far more than the going rate for either. 

You can argue a "United tax" for some of these players – but clearly, the club can still afford to compete for transfers without the Glazers' help. The issue isn't with investment, at all…

Ten Hag simply doesn't have a structure around him that resembles his rivals

Manchester United Head Coach / Manager Erik ten Hag arrives prior to the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on August 19, 2023 in London, United Kingdom.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag arrives at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium (Image credit: Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Erik ten Hag spent most of last summer pursuing Frenkie de Jong, a player he worked with at Ajax. He instead signed Christian Eriksen, a former Ajax player. He also added Antony and Lisandro Martinez, two other players he'd worked with at Ajax. He signed two Dutch players, Wout Weghorst and Tyrell Malacia, and this summer, he signed two more former players, Andre Onana and Sofyan Amrabat. 

There's nothing unusual in the odd reunion here and there. But the sheer volume of players joining Manchester United who have a close connection to the manager is astounding. Most of them either know him personally or have played against his side: it's suggestive that he is the biggest player when it comes to talent ID at the club.

United's Football Director John Murtogh has history as an analyst but not as a scout or someone directly involved in identifying talent. Darren Fletcher is the club's Technical Director after serving other roles at the club, while CEO Richard Arnold has less to do with the playing side and more to do with commercial operations at United.

While most other clubs have brought in sporting directors to oversee recruitment and ease the burden of the modern-day manager, United have a void in this area. The Red Devils planned to bring in Ralf Rangnick on a consultancy basis following the German's interim management post ending. Rangnick reneged on the deal to manage Austria: who stepped in to replace him?

Ralf Rangnick Manchester United

Ralf Rangnick was left to fail at Manchester United in a similar way to Ten Hag (Image credit: Getty)

If Erik ten Hag is to blame for poor signings during his United tenure, that's perhaps because he last acted as a sporting director almost a decade ago, with Utrecht. There's a parallel there with United's hierarchy setting Rangnick up to fail by hiring him despite such little recent experience at the top level: Ten Hag is the only manager in the so-called Big Six (seven, including Newcastle) who carries such a weight on both the coaching and recruitment sides of the game. 

Asking the Glazers to invest in the squad is one thing. Asking them to refresh the infrastructure at the stadium, to keep the club competitive, even to show they care a little is another. But simply ploughing more money into Manchester United's playing squad won't get to the root of how Ten Hag is strained to carry so much more than any of his contemporaries.

Ten Hag famously ran over eight miles with his players after losing to Brentford last season, to show them that they were all equal in the responsibility of failure in his eyes. Who's doing the running with him in the transfer market?

More Manchester United stories

United's rotten away record under Erik ten Hag continued in Sunday's loss to Arsenal – and Roy Keane has criticised the behaviour of Red Devils players in the tunnel ahead of that game.

Meanwhile, another Old Trafford favourite, Gary Neville, has his doubts about reports that the Glazers have taken the club off the market.

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Mark White
Staff Writer

Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. An encyclopedia of football shirts and boots knowledge – both past and present – Mark has also been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals for FFT and has written pieces for the mag ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career. He once saw Tyrone Mings at a petrol station in Bournemouth but felt far too short to ask for a photo.