Manchester United news: Does Erik ten Hag know what he’s let himself in for after rocky pre-season?

There was a superficial confidence and bonhomie to Erik ten Hag when he met the press on Friday to talk about the start of the season that will define his professional career.

Football director John Murtough stuck his head round the door before it started to check all was OK and someone asked whether he had Frenkie de Jong, United’s summer-long transfer target, hidden round the corner. Laughter all round.

This is what it is like pre-season. No one has lost any games. And if there is a new manager in charge, human nature’s inclination to optimism makes you think it surely cannot be as bad as it was before.

That was before questions on Ronaldo leaving before full-time at last Sunday’s friendly brought a tetchy response. ‘There were many players who left but the spotlight is on Cristiano and that is not right,’ said Ten Hag. ‘So do your research, many players left.’

This is standard managerial press conference psychology: attempt to deflect an extremely difficult personality issue by making it a general collective problem. Except that this is Ronaldo, so unless United win every game from now until the end of the season, his name will come up at every press conference until his agent Jorge Mendes conjures an acceptable move or United kick him out.

That exchange had the tone of the new teacher laying down the law with a particularly lively Year 11 group, the frowns interspersed with some levity designed to hint that he could be the fun teacher if only everyone gets into line and shows him respect.

He was asked about the obligation to attack and producing winning, attractive football. ‘You are talking like a Dutchman!’ he said, smiling. ‘They always want to play brilliant football. That is why I’m here and I like it. You want to win and you want to win in a certain way: proactive, brave, adventure.

‘It is what belongs to the culture of Manchester United and we want to bring it in. But at the end of the day, if you cannot win in a good way, in an entertaining way, you still have to win. That is the mentality, attitude, we bring in.’

He also entertained the jaunty line of optimists everywhere, when asked about United’s failure to develop their young players.

‘Don’t look back, look forward,’ he said. ‘I see the potential with many players and yes I’m convinced I can develop the team. Then we will see individuals develop. I have to analyse [the past], that’s clear but now we have to move forward. The past you cannot change but you can change the future.’

All of the above is true and yet could also be David Brent at his breezy best. And at United the past is always with you. This time next year it will be 10 years since Sir Alex Ferguson left and 10 years since United last won the title. That is hardly jumping the gun. It is not remotely bold to affirm that United will not win the Premier League this season. The question in play is whether it will be another 10 years before they challenge again?

The highlights of the last 10 years could fit in on one of those 30-second TikTok clips beloved by social media gurus at United: Jose Mourinho’s Europa League/League Cup double of 2017 (the tin-pot double); Louis van Gaal’s FA Cup win of 2016; and maybe a quick clip of the heady optimism engendered by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s comeback at Paris Saint-Germain.

United now live for the odd victory over Manchester City and Liverpool and a top-four finish. Leicester City have a more impressive trophy record over the last 10 years. Into this fray comes Ten Hag, a fine coach in Holland who did wonders with Ajax and yet has not coached in a major European league. United might counter that nor had Ferguson in 1986.

And yet to build success in a league vastly more competitive and developed than the one Sir Alex had to conquer, you would want to give Ten Hag the best chance possible by meticulously preparing the ground for him. Leave no stone unturned. After all, it has been clear since March that this was the direction United were heading.

You might imagine all the key players would have been signed before the Asia/Australia tour. That the Ronaldo issue would be sorted one way or another. That the squad would be considerably better than this time last year.

None of the above is true. Anthony Martial, rejected by Sevilla during his loan spell, was the biggest hope pre-season until he was injured. Ten Hag is said to have made one thing clear when he was offered the job; he needed Frenkie de Jong, his former Ajax player, so that he could play in the style he wanted.

That was a complicated move, with United stung by overpaying in the past and Barcelona withholding some of De Jong’s deferred wages, so that the player will not move until he is paid up. And yet if this was the most important transfer of the summer, the onus was on CEO Richard Arnold and Murtough to get it done. They have not done so yet and Scott McTominay and Fred cannot play the way Ten Hag wants from midfield. Christian Eriksen may yet end up there.

The transfers done so far, Lisandro Martinez, Tyrell Malacia and Christian Eriksen, have the feel of supplementing the squad rather than changing the paradigm, though Eriksen may prove inspired.

Ronaldo will rumble on as an issue all season. Every exasperated sigh, every frown as he leaves the pitch will be micro analysed and, judging by Ten Hag’s reactions thus far, the manager is going to become increasingly frustrated by that.

And it is not actually Ronaldo’s fault that he is the biggest beast in United’s jungle, when compared to owner Joel Glazer, CEO Richard Arnold and Ten Hag. It is a situation Sir Alex never allowed to happen. That this situation exists is a function of United’s decline over the last nine years.

They re-signed Ronaldo from a position of weakness and desperation and, in the 13 years since he had left Old Trafford, the player had grown into a phenomenon almost as big as the club itself and a figure much more powerful than the manager. That never ends well.

On Friday you could not help but recall another optimistic manager walking into these press conferences with the same air of confidence and intent nine years ago. He too was untried at this level yet, because of dithering in the summer transfer market, vainly hoping that Barcelona would sell them Cesc Fabregas, his big signing for the new season ended up being Marouane Fellaini, one of his former players.

Watching Ten Hag on Friday it was difficult not to be reminded of David Moyes, a good man and fine coach chewed up by what United have become.

It has taken Moyes almost 10 years to recover his reputation from the United experience. You hope for better for Ten Hag. Yet you fear the worst.

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  • 53 минуты назад 18.08.2022Sport
    Emma Raducanu shares new tactic behind Cincinnati success after being ‘really low’

    Emma Raducanu has admitted she experienced some “really low” moments in the 11 months since winning the US Open. The 19-year-old became the first qualifier in history to win a Major at Flushing Meadows last year but went 13-17 in wins and losses before this week’s Cincinnati Open – where she blew former world No 1s Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka off the court – and has now shared the secret to her newfound success.

    The Bromley teenager dispatched a soon-to-be-retired Williams 6-4 6-0 on Tuesday night before ousting two-time Major champion Azarenka 6-0 6-2 less than 18 hours later to reach the third round. Following her emphatic victories, the British No 1 has been honest about her rollercoaster first season on the tour and revealed how she has raised her game in Cincinnati.

    “You’re going to have a bad year regardless so for mine to happen after winning the US Open from qualifying, I think that it’s okay and it’s all part of the journey and I’m learning from it,” she told Amazon Prime following her 62-minute victory over the world No 22.

    Raducanu is finally appearing to crack the code to consistency in Ohio after dropping just six games en route to the third round, and admitted that finding a consistent level of emotion instead of celebrating or getting down on herself too much had helped her after a year containing some lows.

    Admitting she had already “definitely” learned from her match against the Belarusian, the ninth seed continued: “I’ve been really high and I’ve been really low, and just staying one sort of level like I was today and yesterday definitely helps as well.”

    Raducanu echoed her sentiment from her on-court interview, as she was praised for remaining composed against both Williams and Azarenka instead of cheering herself on for winners or berating herself for mistakes. “I’ve just learned to really zone in internally,” the US Open champion explained.

  • 53 минуты назад 18.08.2022Sport
    Andy Murray provides update on retirement announcement after struggling in Norrie loss

    Andy Murray has provided insight into his current mindset over potential retirement from tennis after admitting the cramp he regularly experiences is a ‘big concern’. Similar issues once again thwarted the 35-year-old in the deciding set as Cameron Norrie dumped him out of the Cincinnati Masters on Wednesday.

    Murray started well in the all-British last-32 clash, taking the opening set 6-3. But the nation’s number one, a mantle he once boasted, battled back, taking the second set by the same score before profiting from blatant Murray discomfort to triumph 6-4 in the third.

    Murray has somewhat exceeded longevity expectations by still playing three-and-a-half years later after overcoming retirement fears when he had serious hip surgery after the 2019 Australian Open. And in his post-match press conference, after frustrating niggles impacted another performance, Murray opened up about when he could step away from the court for good.

    He told reporters: “It’s a difficult one. Obviously, when I had the injury problems a few years ago and didn’t know whether I was going to be able to play, I maybe always envisaged finishing my career in the UK or whatever.

    “But when I played that match against Bautista [in the first round of the 2019 Australian Open, losing in five sets], I said to my team, if that was it and I don’t get to play again, I was more than happy with that being my last match, because, yeah, it was [an] amazing atmosphere, it was a great match.

    “I thought right to the end until I could basically hardly walk at the end and left everything out on the court. It would have been fine if that was how it finished. I think when you announce that you’re retiring, I would imagine, psychologically, it’s quite difficult, as well.

    “There is a lot of pressure then, I think, as well, because you want to perform because it’s the last couple of tournaments… just the whole situation puts a lot of stress on the performance. So I don’t know. I don’t really know, to be honest. Don’t know whether I would announce something or whether I would just stop, and that would be it. I don’t know.”

    As a former world number one and two-time Wimbledon champion, Murray will be remembered as one of Britain’s all-time sporting greats after calling it quits. His other Grand Slam came in the 2012 US Open, and he is set to take his place at Flushing Meadows again for the season’s final major.

  • 53 минуты назад 18.08.2022Sport
    Rafael Nadal shares injury details after Cincinnati loss that cast doubt on US Open hopes

    Rafael Nadal has given an insight into how much pain he is still experiencing from his abdominal injury after a shock loss to Borna Coric at the Cincinnati Masters. Nadal hadn’t competed since his withdrawal from Wimbledon at the semi-final stage.

    The Spaniard picked up an abdominal tear midway through the Grand Slam and tried to battle on, before pulling out of the tournament before his scheduled match against Nick Kyrgios. He has since taken time off to try and recover from the troublesome injury in time to compete at the US Open.

    Nadal confirmed last week that he would be making his return in Cincinnati to try and build up some momentum for the final Slam of the year. And he was even given a favourable schedule to give him ample time to prepare as his opening match didn’t take place until Wednesday evening.

    But it was far from a favourable draw for Nadal’s first match back from injury against a player who held a strong record in their previous meetings. Coric proved troublesome for Nadal throughout and ended up improving to a 3-2 record against Nadal in his favour.

    The shock early exit for Nadal now raises questions about his ability to win Grand Slam No 23 at Flushing Meadows. But more worrying will be Nadal’s own assessment on his injury issues with the 36-year-old suggesting that he still hasn’t fully recovered from the abdominal injury.

    “You lose, you move forward. I know the way,” he said. “The main thing for me is stay healthy. It has been a difficult injury to manage, to be honest.

    “The last month and a half hasn’t been easy, because having a tear on the abdominal, you don’t know when [you are]100 per cent over the thing, so that affects a little bit in terms of not [being] sure if you are able to try your best in every serve.”

    Nadal also had a chance to become the world No 1 for the first time since January 2020. Federer is the oldest No 1 in the ATP Tour history having held the ranking at 36 years and 10 months old.

    Nadal only recently turned 36 and would need to hold the No 1 spot past April next week to take the record away from Federer. But the Spaniard will still have a chance to break Novak Djokovic’s record as the oldest year-end No 1, who was 34 years of age when he achieved the feat last year.

    Nadal will have plenty of points on offer at the US Open if he does compete having skipped last year’s Slam.

  • 53 минуты назад 18.08.2022Sport
    Deontay Wilder gives verdict on Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk as he predicts ‘easy’ win

    Deontay Wilder has predicted that Oleksandr Usyk will ‘easily’ beat Anthony Joshua on August 20. ‘The Bronze Bomber’ is back in the ring on October 15 against Robert Helenius and has given his verdict on the current heavyweight landscape.

    “My heart says Usyk easily, he’s got the momentum now and how he was able to deal with it the last time around,” Wilder told the PBC Podcast. “But this is boxing at the end of the day, and you never know how it’s going to end. At the end of the day, I wish them the best of luck and hope they get out of the ring just like they came in – safe and sound.”

    Wilder had hinted at retirement following his brutal knockout loss to Tyson Fury in their trilogy bout last October but came out to announce that he will box again earlier this year. For a time, it seemed as though a fight with Helenius would never happen after it was confirmed that ‘The Nordic Nightmare’ was consulting lawyers about his ongoing situation regarding his WBA mandatory status.

    Back in 2020, Helenius defeated Adam Kownacki in a WBA final eliminator bout to determine the next challenger for the winner of Joshua and Usyk for the WBA (super), IBF, and WBO titles.

    With the belts tied up between the pair after their rematch clause was activated, Helenius defeated Kownacki again, further affirming his position at the front of the line. However, he has since been dropped to No2 in the rankings and is currently sitting behind No1 ranked Michael Hunter and WBA (regular) champion Daniel Dubois in the pecking order.

    Providing Wilder defeats the Finnish puncher in two months’ time he could be in line to face Joshua next. The Brit’s promoter Eddie Hearn recently told Seconds Out that he has tabled an offer to Wilder’s management but is yet to receive a response.

    He said: “I actually reached out to Shelly Finkel the other day because I have got so much money for Deontay Wilder in an offer, but they never come back to me, so I don’t know whether Deontay Wilder doesn’t want to hear about that offer or whatever.

    “Right now, standing here, I am honestly not thinking about any other fight for AJ than Saturday night, they all come through victory, do you know what I mean? I think if he loses the Wilder fight is there, if he wins all he’s thinking about is that final fight with Fury to win all the belts.”

  • 53 минуты назад 18.08.2022Sport
    ‘Yikes’ Emma Raducanu in awkward exchange after thrashing Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati

    Emma Raducanu was put in an awkward spot during her on-court interview after thrashing Victoria Azarenka at the Cincinnati Open on Wednesday. The Brit showed no signs of fatigue after breezing past Serena Williams less than a day previously as her momentum continues to grow before the US Open.

    Raducanu took just over an hour to dismantle 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams on Tuesday night, coming through 6-4 6-0. In the process, she became the first person to ‘bagel’ the American since compatriot Johanna Konta back in 2018.

    She followed up that eye-catching win with another over Azarenka on Wednesday. The 6-2 6-0 scoreline was similarly emphatic against a player who has two Australian Open titles on her CV and reached the US Open final as recently as 2020.

    With a 40-year-old and a 33-year-old both cast aside by Raducanu, the teenager received a comment about ‘respecting her elders’ that took a moment to sink in.

    Fresh from the win over Azarenka, the interviewer for Raducanu’s on-court chat began: “I’m not sure if anyone has ever taught you about respecting your elders because… yikes!” The Brit initially looked puzled before the interviewer added: “Serena, Vika, bagels sets against both of them.”

    The comment was then eventually well-received and talk swiftly turned to her performance. She said: “I just had to focus on what I could control, and in the points you can’t think about who is on the other end of the court. You’ve just got to play the ball.

    “I think I have tried a lot of things, and this year I think some matches, I have lost a lot of matches from leading situations and probably just played too tense. I think that I just need to swing, and I just said that these two tournaments, or this tournament especially, I’m just going to swing freely and take that and see what happens.”

    Next up for Raducanu is an intriguing clash with American seventh-seed Jessica Pegula on Friday. The break between now and then will surely be welcomed by the Brit after a delayed clash with Williams was followed by a showdown with Azarenka just 18 hours later.

    Pegula is in good form this year and reached the quarter-finals of both the Australian Open and French Open. She will be hoping to better her previous-best run at Flushing Meadows with proceedings due to kick off in just over a week, having never gone further than the third round.

    Raducanu wrote her name in the history books at the US Open last year by winning as a qualifier without dropping a set. Her Grand Slam performances have left plenty to be desired since but momentum appears to be moving in the right direction ahead of her title defence.

  • 53 минуты назад 18.08.2022Sport
    Transfer news LIVE: Man Utd’s ‘massive’ Antony move, Chelsea announcement, Felix latest

    The clock is ticking towards transfer deadline day and there is still plenty of business to be done in the Premier League and beyond. The top teams have already splashed out millions on new acquisitions – but don’t expect that to stop any time soon, with the rumour mill still very much in full swing.

    Manchester United continue to fill the lion’s share of the column inches, with the Red Devils desperately searching for options to bolster Erik ten Hag’s quite clearly inadequate squad. Atletico Madrid star Joao Felix and Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro are among the latest names to be linked, and who knows if there will be any further developments today.

    Chelsea, meanwhile, are another team who want to make at least one or two new signings. Will the likes of Wesley Fofana, Frenkie de Jong or Anthony Gordon move closer to a switch to Stamford Bridge in the coming days?

    And with Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham also set to monitor the market until the final day, expect plenty more twists and turns in this most fascinating of transfer windows.

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Sport Manchester United news: Does Erik ten Hag know what he's let himself in for after rocky pre-season?