In an interview with Sportmail (England), coach Erik ten Hag discussed removing Harry Maguire as captain, his first season at Manchester United, and his desire to close the gap on Manchester City.
– You have made many big decisions this summer, when you stripped Maguire of the captaincy and let goalkeeper De Gea leave for free. How difficult is it to make these decisions?
That is the distinction between a coach and a person.Finally, top football is about generating outcomes, and you must make decisions that are honest and transparent.The club assigns me to make judgments in certain situations and to discuss and carry them out in an open and honest manner.That’s what I’ve always strived for and will continue to strive for.
– Is the removal of the captain’s armband simply because Maguire no longer holds the official position or has a deeper meaning?
– I don’t have a problem with Maguire, but that change is good for the team. I have to make a decision. But I wouldn’t say Maguire has no future at the club, he has to fight for his place. Maguire is a good centre-back, and I believe in his potential. It’s just that Maguire has to prove himself and fight for the starting spot. It depends on Maguire, and I believe he can do it.
– He said he believes in Maguire ‘s ability , but last season’s statistics show the opposite. What does it mean?
– Haven’t I let Maguire play a lot? Take a look at Maguire’s rivalry at centre-back. It’s tough when you have to compete with Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof. This has nothing to do with belief. It’s true that I usually pick another player before Maguire, but that doesn’t say anything about my distrust of him. Maguire has to show that he’s a better fit for the team than Varane and Lindelof. This is normal in top football. At Man Utd, you have to fight for the first place, show the best of your skills and prove you are the best, contribute the most to the team.
– What is the most important thing you learned after your first season in charge of Man Utd?
– Coaches always have to think and evaluate themselves to improve, to know in a split second what is important. We have to make thousands of decisions every day and I always do my best to find the best collective based on strong reasoning. In view of that, you have to think a lot before making a decision.
– Man Utd almost panicked in a number of matches last season, including the defeat to Liverpool 0-7, Man City 3-6, Brentford 0-4. In terms of game management, how do you rate this challenge when things don’t go as planned?
– There were also matches where we came back and won back. We have proven we can beat any opponent, all the big clubs in the world. But we also had bad days and the team has to be more stable.
– What do you think about the 0-7 loss to Liverpool ?
– It was a bad day, but we had to learn from it. Anyway, the team only lost three points and the team’s bravery was very good. After every bad performance and every bad result, we come back. This season, I’m sure there will be bad results again and we have to deal with it. The goal, of course, is to avoid those outcomes. But when that happens, we need to stay focused and deal with the difficult moments, and then find a way to turn the tide. That will certainly be one of the challenges next season as well.
– The gap between Man City and Man Utd has decreased from 35 to 14 points in the last two seasons. With these summer contracts, how do you see the opportunity for Man Utd to close that gap even further and even race for the championship?
– In pre-season, we shouldn’t talk about that. I think except Man City , no club in the Premier League can aim to win the title right now. Man City have won five of the last six seasons. After Man City, other clubs have to compete for the top 4, then the top 2 and then in a position to compete for the title. But don’t talk about winning.
– He said he wanted to end Man City’s dominance in the press conference to launch Man Utd. How is that belief now?
– I think Man Utd have proven that they can beat Man City , but you have to maintain consistency. Man City won much easier than us. But I don’t want to talk about Man City because that sounds negative and not what I meant. I want to talk about the Man Utd project, about how the whole team has improved, and think the progress and results of the club last year are pretty obvious.
I’d also like to discuss the performances in which Manchester United defeated major opponents such as Manchester City.We’ve all reached new heights in the last three games versus Manchester City.We want to concentrate on ourselves rather than our competition.Man United must compete in the Premier League against seven or eight clubs, with even more opponents in the European Cup.As a result, we must improve the gameplay and achievements.That should be ideal.
– What did you do after losing to Man City in the FA Cup final ?
– Of course, it’s time for me to re-evaluate the season. You do it every day, but when you don’t have to worry about the next game for the next three or four days, you have more time to review the whole process.
– During the current tour of the US, he talked about Marcus Rashford having to have the right mentality and also mentioned the lifestyle. Why is that?
– With every player, you have to live a true life. Top football today is tough: 60 games a year at club level and 10 internationally. With 70 games, you have to hit your peak fitness level every three or four days. If you don’t live the right life, you can’t keep up. What’s important? Sleep, recovery, nutrition. These are the three main areas and when you don’t do this right, you will have problems, not be able to perform well. What I say about Rashford is the same as Raphael Varane or any other player. You won’t reach the top level if you don’t do it right.
– So is Rashford or any Man Utd player with lifestyle problems?
– When he came to Man Utd, the standards weren’t right. I demand the highest standards of sleep, recovery and nutrition because that makes all the difference when you’re out on the field after three or four days. We have to improve. That is a requirement with every top soccer player. So at Man Utd we are demanding the highest standards.
– Sir Alex Ferguson changed the culture after coming to Man Utd. Was this your biggest challenge of your first year – overhauling the entire culture and the way players work?
– The most important thing is to get results but to do that you need the right culture, the right players, the right play. So you have to do many things right, not just one.
– Jadon Sancho has played for Man Utd for two seasons and has earned his trust. But will next season be the most important one for Sancho?
– Sancho has the skills, but needs to be consistent, because he can contribute more than the club. As an attacking player, being involved in the goals is important. So, make the right decisions, assist or score. That’s why Sancho was recruited by Man Utd. Right now, he’s in a good mood. Sancho decides everything, the mood and the way to play. He has a lot of energy, wants to enjoy football and be successful. I hope and expect a lot from Sancho.
– Sancho is a very different player from the one we saw at Dortmund, in terms of skill and ability to pass people. Is this a confidence issue or is it just because Sancho is playing at a higher level?
– It’s development. The Bundesliga is the perfect preparation for the tougher Premier League. I think talking about confidence is a bit harsh. I watched many games at Dortmund, and Sancho is not another player now. But it’s true that he has to have more consistency in the game, and at the same time he has to do it at a higher level.
– What players do you want to strengthen for Man Utd this summer?
– We are always looking for better quality. So if you want to be at Man Utd you have to meet really high standards. And when we see an opportunity to get better, we have to do it to meet the expectations of our fans. We always have to raise the bar, but it’s important for the players to understand that we believe in them: believe in potential, character, teamwork, unity, fight together, connect social, maintain good relationships. This is a team sport and when we are united, we are stronger.
– Man Utd is preparing to increase spending to $ 230 million this season, after spending $ 282 million last season. What pressure does that put on you and the players?
– There is no pressure at all, because every team is investing such a large amount of money. Compared to other clubs, we don’t spend too much or less. I do not focus on this issue, because it is completely unattractive. I have to think about how to improve Man Utd’s play. I will fight for the players I want, and ask the club to bring in the right players. When that’s done, we have to get a good result.
– How do you have a say in the transfer process?
– I have full discretion. When you see the investments of other clubs, you cannot compete for the top spots in the Premier League without the same investment. It’s a choice: if you want to compete, you have to spend money.
– What do you think about the huge fee of Harry Kane and other strikers?
– I don’t talk about players at other clubs out of respect, especially Kane. I have a lot of respect because Kane is a great striker, one of the best players in history. He could even become the top scorer in the Premier League.
– You said that Man Utd signed too many mediocre players and paid the price. So what should the team do in the next few weeks so that he has the desired squad?
I don’t want to make that comparison. Football developed. A club grows and there will be times when the squad has to be refreshed, but it has to be done strategically. To say which players do not contribute to Man Utd would be really disrespectful.
– What do you think when Andre Onana is considered the best goalkeeper in the world right now?
– I think Onana has proven that in the past seasons. Now he’s at a new club and he continues to have to prove it. Onana has the potential and skill to improve Man Utd’s play, and that will certainly help the team.