Erik ten Hag comes out swinging over Man Utd future and accuses Jamie Carragher of having an agenda

Erik ten Hag (L) Jamie Carragher (R) - Erik ten Hag comes out swinging over Man Utd future and accuses Jamie Carragher of having an agenda
Erik ten Hag (left) has hit back at Jamie Carragher's 'subjective' criticism of his tactics

A defiant Erik ten Hag has come out swinging over his Manchester United future, insisting he does not need the public backing of Sir Jim Ratcliffe while accusing Jamie Carragher of having an agenda against him.

United are facing a potentially season-defining week that could have significant implications for Ten Hag’s future.

Wednesday’s visit to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup fifth round represents United’s last realistic chance of silverware this season. Defeat by Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday could leave them 11 points adrift of the top four should Aston Villa beat Luton Town 24 hours earlier.

United’s minority shareholder Ratcliffe sidestepped questions about Ten Hag’s future during interviews last week.

But Ten Hag – who is contracted until the end of next season – rejected any notion of being “on trial” until the end of the season.

Asked if it would help if the Ineos billionaire declared he would remain as manager, Ten Hag said: “I’m under contract for three seasons, so I don’t care.

“I’m only focusing on the process, so I don’t care what’s going on around me.

“I have many talks with Sir Jim Ratcliffe, also with Sir Dave Brailsford [the Ineos director of sport and club board member] and others in that group, so I know where we are talking about and I have a strong belief and I feel that they believe in me.”

Scrutiny on Ten Hag intensified in the wake of United’s 10th league defeat of a troubled campaign last Saturday, when his side’s familiar flaws were laid bare in Fulham’s 2-1 win.

United’s set-up in and out of possession drew withering criticism from Carragher in a detailed analysis on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, which prompted Ten Hag to imply the former Liverpool defender had not been objective in his criticism of United from the moment he arrived in England.

Carragher, for example, had questioned Lisandro Martinez’s suitability to the Premier League after a poor display in a 4-0 defeat to Brentford in August 2022; Ten Hag’s first game as United manager.

“First of all, some analysts are very objective in their comments, very good advice, some are very subjective – Jamie Carragher is one of them,” Ten Hag said.

“From the first moment on he has criticised and now he wants to make his point.”

Ten Hag did admit there was some validity to Carragher’s criticisms in relation to United’s first half against Fulham – which led to him questioning his team’s attitude – and Fulham’s winning goal from Alex Iwobi.

“Probably in the first half an hour, yeah, he [Carragher] had a point,” Ten Hag said. “Fulham in their midfield set up a little bit surprises [for us] and then we have to find the solutions.

“After half an hour we found the solutions. I was not pleased with the performance with the defending, especially on the left side.

“How we did the pressing because they came out, especially in the first half an hour, several times on the left side and that can’t happen and that has to do with willingness, spirit, passion, that was in the previous weeks very good for this team and therefore, we won football games.

“I know footballers are not robots, sometimes they have bad days. But it can’t be, it’s unacceptable, we have to do better tomorrow but in the weeks before we have done very well.”

Carragher queries Mainoo’s role

Carragher had highlighted why United routinely lacked a compact shape out of possession and questioned Ten Hag’s instructions to young midfielder Kobbie Mainoo, among others, and the space between midfield and defence.

“I want to highlight Mainoo, who has been fantastic since he came in, but the problem I have – it’s not a criticism of him – what are his instructions before the game?” Carragher said. “This is straight from kick-off, he is not sure whether he should close down the holding midfield player or looking at the No.10. He’s caught straight from kick-off - you should know your jobs straight from kick-off and that’s down to the coaching staff.

“Twenty seconds into the game against Fulham, it’s been the problem for Manchester United all season, there’s space between the back four and the midfield.”

Kobbie Mainoo -
Kobbie Mainoo's (left) role was not obvious in the defeat by Fulham - Getty Images/James Gill

Ratcliffe has yet to offer any public assurances over Ten Hag’s future but the Dutchman said he did not feel as though he was effectively “on trial” until the end of the season. “No, but I want to win every game,” he said. “I know I’m in a process, I know what I’m doing.

“Consistently we have talks, and we’re talking about the future together. I focus on those two points – progressing the team in this moment and the next game, and to think about the future and to do that in togetherness.”

Ten Hag insisted he would not allow himself to get “distracted by any noise” around him. “No, I’m not thinking about it,” he replied when asked if the persistent scrutiny over his future ground him down.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the process and I have to manage the process. I’m not focusing about my personal circumstances. I’m just focusing on the team and I have to find solutions for this team so that they perform in the best way they can. It’s all about focusing on that and don’t get distracted by any noise or whatever.

“That’s for you, for the fans to talk about maybe. If you talk about one defeat and the manager’s position is in discussion, I think it’s quite opportune after two months without a defeat.

“I can’t pick something from this, I can’t take it seriously. I have to stay focusing again on the team and on the team’s performance.”

Ten Hag also criticised his United players for their poor game management in the 97th minute when Fulham had a throw-in near their own corner flag from which ended with Iwobi scoring a dramatic winner.

“It can’t happen when they have a throw-in in the corner, how we manage it as a team is no good,” he said.

As well as his tactics, Ten Hag’s transfer decisions at United have also come under severe scrutiny.

Antony’s battle for form

United’s £85 million signing Antony was left out of the starting XI against Fulham with academy graduate Omari Forson handed his first start for the club in the wake of an injury to Rasmus Hojlund that has sidelined the Denmark striker for up to three weeks.

Ten Hag believes the assault allegations hanging over Antony, which the player denies, have contributed to his struggles this season, with the Brazil winger yet to contribute a goal or assist in 20 Premier League appearances.

But Ten Hag claims those personal problems are not a factor now and is convinced Antony will prove his worth.

Asked if off pitch issues were still affecting Antony, the United manager said: “Not anymore but definitely has had. Now he’s left this behind but for a moment in the season it had an impact on him – you could see in his performance, in his attitude, but now he’s back.

“I see in the training he’s doing [that] and he will turn the corner.”

Pochettino hits back at Neville’s jibe

Ten Hag’s comments came as both Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp responded to Carragher’s Sky Sports colleague Gary Neville’s claim Chelsea were ‘billion pound bottle jobs’ during the Carabao Cup final.

Pochettino joked Neville’s comments were borne out of his frustration Liverpool were winning, given his United connections.

“I didn’t talk with Gary but I think yesterday he said ‘It was my first emotion’. He is Manchester United and wanted Liverpool to lose! That was a little bit of it,” Pochettino said.

“I think he was frustrated because he was disappointed with the result. He said I love Pochettino and I was disappointed in this moment, and he translated his emotions there.”

Klopp, meanwhile, defended Chelsea over Neville’s claim and said: “This ‘bottling’ thing is really not mine. I really don’t understand it.

“They wanted it badly and didn’t get it, and I saw in the faces of the players and Poch after the game that it felt horrible. I don’t think anybody deserves these kind of feelings.”

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