Erik ten Hag has identified his first target at Manchester United
Influencers are a damn nuisance in dressing room when the team ethic needs to shine through.
There is no ‘I’ in team and that is the message Erik ten Hag has been ramming home at to his Manchester United players since he took one one of the biggest challenges in football management.
United’s shambolic transfer policy over the last decade has contributed to the club signing footballers whose chief ambition was to promote their own agenda first.
Influencers may have a place in the advertising and marketing world, but there are a damn nuisance in dressing room when the team ethic needs to shine through.
Alexis Sanchez, Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo are examples of sporting brands who have been parachuted into United in recent years, with their reputations as big as the club in an age where your popularity is judged by many on the number of social media followers you own.
The trouble is, that number is far less significant than the contribution you make on a football pitch and there is where it has been going wrong for United.
So while Sanchez was useful for a fine welcome video featuring a piano and some booming music, he was pretty hopeless in a United No.7 jersey.
Pogba’s eagerness to promote himself as a legend has long since overridden his usefulness as a footballer and he proved that by draining every last penny out of his lucrative United contract and then cashing him chips in with a free transfer.
Ronaldo’s story is a little different, as he delivers on the pitch in the grand manner, even if his 482 million Instagram followers makes him the dream signing for United’s dominant marketing team.
What these sporting brands bring when they sign for a club is an entourage and an ego that needs expert management.
And Ten Hag’s treatment of Ronaldo so far suggests he appreciates what is needed to rediscover the soul of a club that was eroded when the Glazer family took ownership and then Alex Ferguson retired as manager.
Celebrity managers like Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho ensured the celebrity element of United’s make-up was propped up by their managers for a time, but there are signs that a long-awaited evolution is underway.
“When I look at Manchester City and Liverpool, they have humble football players; no over-inflated egos, they understand their position, the team comes first,” reflects former United defender Gary Neville.
“There isn’t one Manchester United player that would get into any of those two teams, so why would you have an over-inflated ego, think you didn’t have to work hard, or be spiritless?
“It had baffled me for a long time, but I like what I see from Erik ten Hag so far. He doesn’t appear to be ready to put up with the nonsense.
“You look at what he has done with Ronaldo and not picking him to start the last few games and it sends out a message.
“We all know Ronaldo wanted to leave this summer, he came back late for training and Ten Hag has stood up to that and said you have to fight to get back into the team now.
“There has not been enough of that at United in recent years. The players have been in charge in many ways and it can never be like that.”
The success of United in the Ferguson era was based around a dominant leader who ensured that any player under his watch appreciated the privilege of playing for Manchester United.
In recent times, some of the biggest names in the modern game have been using United as a vehicle to promote their own interests and that is one of many reasons why the club has lost its identity.
What Ten Hag has on his side is the appreciation that it may need many years for United to get back to where they believe they should be and all appreciate the damage done over the last few years will take at least two years to repair.
A defeat against Brighton and the shocking 4-0 hammering handed out by Brentford last month emphasised the scale of the job Ten Hag has on his hands.
Yet four successive Premier League wins after that disastrous opening suggesting this calm and calculating Dutchman is not overawed by the scale of the challenge he has taken on.
While it may need new owners and a fresh approach from the top for the ultimate revival to become reality, there are early signs that the latest manager wearing the hard hat at Old Trafford has the fortitude to put out the fires that have been burning for far too long.
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