As United plan ahead for next season, recruitment responsibilities will no longer be primarily his. That will create its own new dynamic. On a point of principle, it is difficult for any coach to adjust to a situation where the board is making it known they will be more cautious about pursuing deals without forensic due diligence, or might even refuse outright before proposing alternative targets who they believe have been more thoroughly scouted than those signed before.
Well-run clubs will establish that the coach is comfortable with this arrangement during the appointment process. Ten Hag is now in a situation where he will have no choice but to adapt to the changes that are afoot, especially when United finally appoint a director of football.
You will have to think long and hard for an example of a major investor taking over a football team who have stopped competing for the biggest honours and, as part of their restructure, sticking with the coach they inherited. A Manchester United manager who finished bottom of the Champions League group and was out of the title race by the end of October is obviously vulnerable.
Of course, Ten Hag’s staunchest defenders will suggest there are mitigating factors in his struggles this season, especially with regards to a long injury list. Last year’s top-four finish and Carabao Cup win are credit in the bank. That was a notable first step in Ten Hag’s debut season in the Premier League, and the goodwill he accumulated from those achievements count in his favour – the biggest reason why he is still in post.
One of the more extraordinary facts about Ten Hag is that he will surpass Sir Alex Ferguson’s win percentage should his side beat Tottenham Hotspur this weekend.
A more damning statistic is United have lost 14 of their 29 fixtures this season.
Finding the right manager is difficult… but improvement can be swift
Looking back to my own experience at a club undergoing a massive executive overhaul, Roy Hodgson’s brief reign at Liverpool is regarded as the worst since Bill Shankly was appointed in 1959. Hodgson lost nine in 31 games before he was sacked, not coincidentally three months after Fenway Sports Group bought the club and wanted a different profile of coach on the touchline.
No one will convince me Ratcliffe has bought into United thinking Ten Hag has already proven himself the right man for the job longer-term. He is far from untouchable.
I can only reiterate what I believe about clubs of United’s, Arsenal’s and Liverpool’s stature – that they are never as far away from getting back to the top as it seems.
With their history, resources and clout, it only ever needs the right manager at the right time and two or three top-class players to change everything. They pull everyone upwards.
As the last 10 years at Old Trafford demonstrates, finding those transformative personalities is easier said than done.
But by applying that straightforward formula, Ratcliffe will not need as long as some predict to get United back where they are accustomed to being. My suspicion is that when it happens, it will be a revolution traced back to Ineos’s first permanent managerial appointment.
Ten Hag faces the fight of his career to ensure the headhunting for a new coach is not well advanced by March and April.